Farmers’ markets are about people who love food, growers and eaters alike. If this seems broad, it should. Those abundant tables bearing fresh fruits and veggies are the bridge between farm and fork, and I cross it whenever I can! Come along one day and I’ll surely be singing the praises of farmers markets.
At the farmers’ market you can…
1. Find Seasonal Fruits & Veggies
Organic peaches ripened in the summer sun and delivered into your eager hands always outshine the out-of-season varieties that are picked well before they’re ready and shipped from warmer climes. Fortunately, every season has something tasty to offer, from rich winter squash to fresh spring peas, to summer berries (and, well, summer everything), to crisp fall apples. And just to show that Mother Nature always knows best, getting in tune with seasonal eating has a host of nutritional benefits:
- Berries are full of antioxidants that help protect your skin from summer sun damage
- Potatoes and butternut squash are chock full of nutrients to keep you warm and nourished over the harsh winter months
2. Get the Freshest Produce Possible
Did that patty pan squash just get fresh with you? Of course it did! At the grocery store, the goods might have been on the shelves for a day or two, in storage before that, on the road before that, in a warehouse before that… you get the picture. Once those store-bought veggies end up on your plate, they’re likely at least a week old. Most market farmers gets up before the sun on market day to harvest, which is why the produce seems extra fresh – those peas have barely had the chance to realize they’ve been harvested. Hooray for local produce!
3. Cut Your Ecological Footprint
You’ll leave some footprints in the grass at your local market, to be sure, but that’s nothing compared to the hundreds, even thousands of kilometers food travels to arrive at supermarkets, and finally your plate. Couple those carbon savings with reusable bags, reduced packaging and plastic, and the breath of fresh air you get while at market, and you’ve got an environmentally friendly – and enjoyable – shopping experience.
4. Opt for Organic
Yes, cutting the distance food travels to arrive on your plate is an excellent move towards sustainability, but research shows those “food miles” only account for 11% of your meal’s carbon footprint – the rest of comes from conventional food production, which requires lots of environmentally unfriendly inputs in the form of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Be sure to opt for the organic growers next time you’re wantering through the tables.
- Organic food is not just healthier for you – it’s healthier for the planet too – as the Rodale Institute’s 30-year comparison of organic and conventional confirmed (1)
- Local markets give you a chance to get the best of organic when it’s in season – at it’s most nutritious and delicious (2)
5. Make Friends with Your Farmers
Farmers markets are the place where you, the eater, get to connect with the hard-working folks who grow your food. These markets contribute to healthy food systems that sustain our land, our community, and our homes. When you support organic farmers at your local market, you directly enable them to stay on the land.
6. Get Expert Advice
How often do you get face to face with the person who grew your food? Markets are a great chance to ask questions about how this vegetable was grown, or the best way to prepare the ever-mysterious kohlrabi (we like it raw, shredded in a salad). A face-to-face conversation goes a long way to re-building your trust in the food system – and to rebuilding the food system itself! And since they’re passionate about growing delicious, healthy food in harmony with nature, they’ll happily talk your ear off about just how they nurtured those juicy tomatoes from seed to your shopping bag.
7. Grow Awareness
Markets also spread awareness of agricultural issues facing our largely urban society, including the truth about organic farming, genetically modified foods, fair pricing for agricultural products, and the abundant variety of fresh seasonal food available in a locally-networked food system. If you’ve been wondering what’s on your plate, chances are the answers are waiting for you at a farmer’s table, nestled among the organic kale.
8. Feel the Love
Farmer’s markets are for everyone, designed to be accessible to all and to create a sense of community engagement – but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t intimidated on my first visit! Whether you seek fresh, affordable greens or local crafts, there is something for you, and ever since that first time a basket of strawberries outshone my red cheeks and conquered my hesitation, I like to think I’ve learned how to get the most out of my friendly neighborhood farmers market. The experience is different from your average grocery store!
I know what’s on my list for this weekend’s market. If you need some inspiration, check out these 12 Vegetarian BBQ Recipes or 4 Chef-Crafted Meals for Summer. Share your shopping tips, and why you love your local market in the comments below!
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(1) Weber, C.L., and Matthews, H.S. (2008) Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol, 42 (10),3508–3513.
(2) Hepperly, P. R., Douds, D., Jr., Seidel, R. (2006) The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial 1981 to 2005: long-term analysis of organic and conventional maize and soybean cropping systems. The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa. 15-31.