Why follow a compass that's lost? The Lost Compass is for people who can't stop travelling, who always seek out the next destination. It's for those who'd rather take a backroad than the Interstate; who wonder what happens when you get off the beaten path and look up an odd nook or cranny. It's about finding the little gems, wherever they may be hidden. It is for those who embrace travel as an experience - not stopping just at a tourist trap, but finding a local cafe, bookstore, or dive bar to stop and talk to the people who make up the town. What happens when the compass' needle spins off you the beaten path? Keep reading to find out.

01 July 2012

Daytrippin: NC State Farmers Market

In this installment of Daytrippin, I'm taking you on an adventure to explore the NC State Farmers Market.  Why?  Because my husband has laid down the law, put me on a budget, and I need to find organic, growing-belly friendly foods WITHOUT busting the budget every single week at Whole Foods!  Because farmers markets are known for some cool, crazy, even oddball local or heirloom varieties of produce.  (Have you ever seen a PURPLE bell pepper before this post?  Yeah, neither had I!)  Because this past Wednesday was the last day before the epic heat wave that sent my car thermometer soaring well over 100 degrees; therefore, it was the last day I could spend hours outside without wanting to melt. And because supporting local farmers, local agriculture, small businesses, and the locavore movement all in one stop?  As Martha would say, it's a Good Thing.  

Purple bell peppers, Walker Farms, NC, Raleigh, farmers market, taken by Lynn Shallue at Lost Compass
PURPLE bell peppers???  Another good thing!

First things first, did you know that the Raleigh Farmers Market is one of five owned by the State of North Carolina as hubs for local farmers from all over to deliver the freshest, most in-season produce, meat, poultry, seafood, breads, treats, wine, jams, jellies, plants, and knick-knacks around??  Yes, they sell ALL of that there!  It's seriously overwhelming, especially for someone who can easily take an hour just meandering around Fresh Market or Whole Foods picking up 5-10 things!  I admit, I was there for a specific mission - produce and meats - and still spent three hours going through some of the different stalls.  I didn't even make it to the Market Imports store or half of the buildings!!  Yes, there's more than one building.  It's actually an entire complex of fully and partially open buildings, as well as three restaurants, a home and garden decorations store, and more.  Have I mentioned it's overwhelming?  

I knew I was going to need some fortification to have the energy to explore this amazing complex.  At least, this was the justification I gave myself to try out the State Farmers Market Restaurant.  It's across the street from the produce market, with lots of tables, quick and friendly service, and down-home comfort food.  They get fresh meat and produce from the handy market next door, so everything tasted very fresh.  The decor surprised me - from the outside it looks like a standard Southern food joint.  Inside, there are murals all over the wall, bright and sunny colors, and a random little buggy from the late 1800s.  The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and is open M-Sa 6:00am - 3:00pm, Su 8:00am - 3:00pm.  Since it was after 1:00pm, lunch was my only option.  The waitresses are spot on in their recommendations! Be warned - you will NOT leave here hungry.  In fact, if you leave here at anything less than groaning in delight and stomach pain, I applaud your iron will.   Apparently, I don't have any will anymore.  

Farmers market restaurant, Raleigh, NC, Fluffy biscuit, hushpuppies, Taken by Lynn Shallue at the Lost Compass
Biscuit and hush puppies at the Farmers Market Restaurant. Nom.
Their website?  Realbiscuits.com.  Don't know about you, but to me, that was a gauntlet of a challenge!  My verdict?  They've earned the website's name - those biscuits are light, fluffy, delectable, and far, far better than I've ever achieved.  Seriously, the only reason you'd need butter on these biscuits is if you're one of those crazy butter-loving types (like me) who just feel a biscuit doesn't taste right unless it's slathered in the stuff. The menu seems to change daily - it was simply a Xeroxed piece of paper with the day's specials on it.  If you're stumped, definitely ask your waitstaff.  My waitress was amazing and definitely steered me in the right direction!  Once you order, they bring out a free biscuit and handful of hush puppies, straight from the fryer.  Before I got my biscuit even half eaten, out came my order.  "Chicken and pastry" turned out to be chicken & dumplings, almost as good as my grandma's.  I had fried green tomatoes and broccoli casserole for sides.  The tomatoes were pure Southern - crispy, fresh from the fryer, tart and tangy as only good green tomatoes can be.  The broccoli casserole was different - it was more like a good stuffing for chicken or turkey, mixed half and half with broccoli - not nearly as cheesy as I was expecting and more breading than I care for.  Each lunch comes with free dessert that seems to change daily - this day was peach cobbler.  Overall, I would definitely come back, would probably throw my luck in with the waitstaff's recommendation, and would leave groaning and clutching my poor belly from eating far too much good food.  I had to get out of there and walk off my potbelly, so I headed back across the street to the farmers market.

Produce Pavilion, NC, Farmers Market, Raleigh, taken by Lynn Shallue at the Lost Compass
The produce pavilion
The picture above is the produce pavilion, an extremely long building with stalls and tables on both sides.  It's attached to another pavilion that houses all sorts of plants for your garden - everything from herbs and produce to wonderful flowers.  One seller was showing off some clever hydroponic decorations, which were hanging in those beautiful glass bulbs below.

Plantings, planter pavilion, NC, Raleigh, farmers market, taken by Lynn Shallue at Lost Compass
The plantings pavilion
If you're a recent convert to farmers markets (like me!) or new to the state, NC Department of Agriculture has a great chart to give you an idea of what's available when: 
NC, Raleigh Farmer Market, seasonal availability NC
Seasonal Availability in NC
In the produce section, there are big signs at most of the vendors saying "100% grown in NC."  This helps prevent vendors coming in who just bought bananas from the Dominican Republic, and other such nonsense.  Also, sadly, there are no certified organic produce sellers at this time.  However, Betty at Walker Farms was sweet enough to clue me in that I was asking the wrong question.  If I asked about certified organic, everyone would have to tell me "no."  That's because it's an arduous process that takes 8-10 years and thousands of dollars to become certified.  However, if I ask about pesticide-free or what chemicals they use, each farmer can give me a good guideline for how they treat their crops.  Most of the farmers at the market try to use as much organic fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide, etc. as they can.  Each farmer has their own guidelines, however.  And yes, I realize that most people care more about fresh-picked than chemical-free.  However, since I started eating organic, I can tell a big difference in the taste when produce is raised in chemicals and when it isn't.  There are a few local strawberry farms near my house, so after eating months' worth of organic strawberries from Whole Foods, I tried these places out.  Unfortunately, they use enough chemicals that I could easily taste them on the fruit, regardless of how much I washed them!  Yick!  Betty also pointed out that any produce that comes into the USA from other countries, regardless of method raised, MUST be treated with a chemical fungicide, so it's really not 100% organic, even if I buy it at Whole Foods!  Well played, Betty, well played.  Partially because she was a fountain of information and partially because she was the purveyor of PURPLE bell peppers and crazy little ball squash, I bought most of my produce from her stand.  There were also a couple folks who had their pick-up beds loaded down with that morning's pickings of corn and cantaloupe, so I stopped and spread the wealth a bit.

Since my shoulder was killing me and my first bag was full, I stopped at the car to drop off my goodies and pick up my insulated bag for the trip through the meat, cheese, and treat market.  (I'm not sure of its real name, but that's how I know it since it's home to 4-5 butchers/meat markets, two candy and sundries shops, a couple bakeries, a natural soap and lotion stand, and a wine seller.)  Again I started asking vendors about their meats, if they were raised without antibiotics or hormones, humanely, etc.  Again, each vendor had a different answer.  The lady running the MAE Farm Meats stand intrigued me the most.  She assured me that not only were her meats from local pigs, chickens, and cows allowed to roam freely on their farm and then slaughtered humanely by a local butcher.  She also handed out recipes for every cut of meat at the drop of a hat and spoke to me about her past as a vegan.  In fact, one reason she sold for Mae Farms is because of how humanely they raise and slaughter their animals.  She deeply respected the company, and it showed in her knowledge and sales.  I love people that can give me a recipe that's extremely simple (i.e. "lay your bacon on a broiler pan, turn on the broiler on your oven, put the bacon in the oven, and leave it for 4 minutes.  Pull it out, flip it, and put it back in for another 4 minutes, then if it's not done, check it every minute or so after."  This lovely little trick prevented a mess of a kitchen, and had a full package of bacon done in less than 10 minutes!).  I ended up loaded down with $50 worth of pig and cow, including two pounds of St Louis cut ribs that I will be cooking for dinner tomorrow, in addition to a wealth of knowledge on the company and a few new recipes and cooking techniques to boot!  
On the verge of broke, I wandered away from Mae Farms and checked out the stall full of loose candy by the pound, spices, and cheeses.  They had a bacon cheddar that I couldn't resist (and went very well on top of scrambled eggs this morning) and some salt-water taffy that I'd been craving for a while.  Then I wandered down a few more stalls to the end of the building.  There, I found a new little gem... and a worthy place for an "I survived!" treat.  The nice gentleman pictured was making fresh-squeezed, handmade lemonade!

Lemonade, lemonade stand, Raleigh, NC, farmers market, Taken by Lynn Shallue for the Lost Compass
Making lemonade
Lemonade, lemonade stand, Raleigh, NC, farmers market, Taken by Lynn Shallue for the Lost Compass
>Decorating the lemonade
I have a confession to make... and one I'm not proud of.  Up until this day, I had NEVER in my life had lemonade fresh from the lemon itself.  I always had Crystal Light or Countrytime.  I know.  My foodie card should be revoked, right?  Well, thanks to watching him, I now know how to make lemonade - I'm no longer scared!!!  He sliced three lemons in half, squeezed them in the fancy press into a waiting cup filled with Sonic-style crushed ice, and then filled it nearly full with simple syrup (fancy phrase for sugar boiled in water until the sugar dissolves).  Afterwards, he truly made my day by decorating the lemonade with LOTS of maraschino cherries, and slices of lemon, lime, and orange!  It literally became a little citrus salad/fruit cocktail in a cup.  Although the temperature gauge in my car assured me that it was less than 95 (barely), this lemonade was a wonderful, refreshing sip of summer that lasted my entire drive home.  It was too good to slurp in big gulps - I HAD to savor it!  Y'all, that cup of lemonade which cost less than $5?  That alone was worth the trip and the heat.  Lunch, a great chance to learn, some great people, and a fridge full of produce?  Those were just side benefits.

Lemonade, lemonade stand, Raleigh, NC, farmers market, Taken by Lynn Shallue for the Lost Compass
Tell me this doesn't look like a glorious reward!!
And for those who were paying attention at the beginning, altogether for produce, meat, cheese, candy, a few sundries, and lemonade?  I spent less than $100 and was ON budget!  Go me!!!  This is going to become a weekly event, or at least every fortnight.  If you haven't had a chance to check it out, I strongly encourage you hop on I-40, exit on 297 (Lake Wheeler Blvd) and follow the clearly marked signs to my new favorite grocery mecca in the state of North Carolina: the State Farmers Market.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, yes I did. I don't like that biweekly can mean either twice a week or every other week! >.< Fortnight is much more exact. :)


Please, feel free to leave me your own two cents! I adore feedback! However, anything spam, inflammatory, or ignorant will be deleted. Those of us from the USA had to take English from the time we were kids, so please don't slaughter it too badly!