It felt like the hottest June 2 in northwest Florida's history and it was only 8 a.m.  Despite the sticky, steamy weather, the vendors at Palafox Market  were lively and beyond excited to sell their produce. Luckily for them, I had $20 in my pocket and a glimpse of what my farmers market dinner would look like (hint: it would have only local and fresh ingredients).

In the early 2000's, Americans began embracing the idea of buying and selling local produce in lieu of driving to Publix, Walmart, or Wholefoods. The idea was that the produce was cheaper, fresher, and tasted like a slice of heaven. 

These markets also gave credit to "the little guy," the men and women who worked the fields, tended crops, and milked cows. The past 18 years have only developed the concept that shopping locally is, in fact, a lifestyle. And for many, the farmers market has become his or her grocery store. 

But the farmers market raised a few questions in my mind. Are these crops really fresher and healthier? Is it actually cheaper and more convenient to shop outside, in the heat, without a grocery cart? Do these goods really taste godly?

To me, it was paramount these questions were answered.

So like others before me, I went to the farmers market. 

Samantha Sontag

I set out to see if it was possible to create a meal that:

1) Tasted good

2) Was filling 

3) Was created from produce purchased ONLY from the market

4) Did not exceed my $20 budget (happy wallet, happy girl) 

And, to my surprise, I did it seamlessly.

The vendors had an overwhelming number of fruits and vegetables to offer; foods I'd never seen before were lying on tables swarmed with native market goers. I was overwhelmed but on a mission.

There were baskets of squashes and tubs of blueberries all marked at $1.50. I had died and gone to food heaven. It was an out of body experience. Really. 

Samantha Sontag

The meal I had in mind (aka the recipe I pulled out of my a** as I walked from vendor to vendor) was stuffed peppers...ambitious for an amateur chef who has only successfully created cereal with milk, but I thought I could pull it off. 

I spoke with an astounding number of farmers.  Many said they avoided the use of pesticides on their produce, while others talked about hand-pruning their gardens. And let me tell you, the lack of chemicals and the idea of hand-pruned veggie gardens DOES create the best tasting produce (note: this is a biased opinion). It was all clearly grown with love. I could taste it. 

My Mom and I (the second girl in my "Two Girls, $20 Dollars" shtick) bought four green bell peppers ($4.75), two eggplants ($1.25), one squash ($2), a basket of tomatoes ($3), micro greens ($4), a bag of parsley ($1) and a jambalaya rice mix ($4), which we used to stuff the peppers. All of this, if you do the math, adds up to $20 dollars and there was more than enough food to feed an army (also known as a family of five). 

In the end, this experience answered all my previous questions and doubts about the farmers market.  

Samantha Sontag

The dinner I made was full of flavor and crunch.  Each veggie tasted fresh and alive, and after eating that dinner, I did too. 

There's something special about the farmers markets.  There's this feeling of community and wholeness when you walk past the vendors.  I hope this article encourages you to go out and try a "Two Girls, $20 Dollars" meal. See what creative concoction you can cook up using fresh produce and supporting local farmers.   

The stuffed peppers became green pepper boats, but still tasty! 

Samantha Sontag