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Take the Public Market Challenge

by Christy

It doesn’t seem like twenty bucks goes very far anymore. It used to at least fill my gas tank, but fat chance of that these days. I’ll tell you of a magical place, though, where your yuppie food stamp will go farther than you can imagine… it’s your local public market! The produce is lovely, the people are friendly, and you will even find something unusual that you don’t know you need.

The Rochester market has an outdoor and an indoor area for vendors, as well as a little strip of unique shops. That was where our journey began as Jan, Angie, Laura, and I met for a caffeine pick-me-up at Java Joe’s to take the public market challenge: with only 20 bucks, what can you get at the market? Blinking sleep away (the market opens early!), we clutched our mochas, coffees, and chai and set out for the outdoor loop of stands.

We listened to the happy clamor of our community finding bargains and wheeling dearls.

As it was my first trip to the market, I wanted to stop at every little stand to buy apples, cukes, bananas! I couldn’t get over the selection; I couldn’t get over the prices. A hand of bananas for 50 cents, a half-bushel of tangerines for a buck! Fake Duracell batteries called Dynacel! Sweet! While Laura and I pondered some lovely plastic toy pipes, Jan stocked up on some basics across the way: broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, and spaghetti sauce. Angie purchased a half-gallon of cider to accompany her mulling spices she had just picked up earlier in the week. The first item I couldn’t live without was some lovely honey for my tea.

We pressed on--more vendors inside! As we entered the inner area, we listened to the happy clamor of our community finding bargains and making deals. Angie picked up three flaky croissants for a dollar, Laura took home a sample of four different scones for a dollar, and Jan scored some lovely chicken Polish sausage. We checked in with the florist who brings her bunnies to market… they were twitching their noses and happily taking it all in.

We gave a fleeting thought to buying a nice “toy” for my puppy, Dottie. She would have loved a huge, live, pinchy crab from the fish guy… or maybe a pig’s head would be more to her liking. On second thought, we passed and made our way back to the string of shops. It was here we hit the mother load of free samples. In the fancy cheese shop, with more wheels of cheese from more countries than I thought made cheese, we tried cheeses ranging from stinky and pungent (but good) to creamy and mild (also good). Laura made a haul here, with one particular selection of note… and that would be the cheese with the peppercorns in it. Jan also honed in on a nice blue cheese and some cardamom spiced olives. Also in the free column was a small cup of herbal tea and heart-shaped, iced sugar cookies for everyone. Laura warmed up with some chili, and we sat to recap our deals, and talk about weekend plans as I scarfed down a cinnamon swirl roll with icing.

You’ll find more than just the typical produce and bargains at your local market if you make it a habit to get yourself there. Go often enough, and the vendors will recognize you and greet you like a long-lost second cousin. And isn’t that so much nicer than wandering around your grocer’s produce section looking for someone to help you find the fresh cilantro!

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