This is the time of year when the farmer’s markets start popping up and depending on where you are, you may have access to quite a variety of produce and locally produced foods. And while sometimes it’s much easier to run into the grocery store for the items you need, there are some real benefits to visiting a local farmer or an outdoor market:
1. Freshness - since the produce is locally grown, you can bet that it’s not only fresh, but picked at its peak so that it has the greatest abundance of nutrients possible. Much of the produce found in the large grocery stores is picked long before it’s ripe and then travels long distances. Sometimes they’re also treated with chemicals to ripen them on the trip.
2. Seasonal Eating - These days, we have access to everything around the globe, which means it’s easy to make a tropical fruit salad in winter, or even have access to quinoa from South America. When we eat locally produced, seasonal foods, though, we live in harmony with nature and give our bodies what they need naturally. Here in New England, spring and summer are the times to eat early greens and berries, and they’re naturally detoxifying and cooling, which is exactly what our bodies need in the hot weather. Root vegetables that are in season in the fall and winter naturally add more warmth to the body.
3. Getting to Know Your Farmer - Buying your produce at a farmer’s market give you an opportunity to get to know your farmers and their farming practices. For example, I’ve spoken to several farmers about pesticide treatment. Most have told me that they practice integrative pest management, which means that their fields are inspected regularly and then only treated for a specific bug or disease if and when necessary. One farmer in Boston explained to me that they must often treat their apple trees after the greenhouses in Canada open up, because they release spores into the air that travel hundreds of miles and infect their trees. When you understand how and why a farmer is raising their produce, you can make more educated decisions about the food you spend your money on and eat.
4. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) - Many farms now offer CSAs, meaning that members of the community can pay a one-time fee to receive a basket of produce and locally crafted foods on a weekly basis. The nice thing about this is that you’ll be given what’s fresh and coming up at the time. In addition, you’re investing in the success of the farm, which is a win-win situation for everyone. The more support the farms can get, the more likely they’ll survive and be there to offer the best quality produce you can get.
5. Reducing Your Carbon Footprint - Produce that is grown and sold locally on smaller farms requires less fuel for transportation and potentially less petrochemical fertilizers that are often required for large-scale growth. This helps us all reduce energy consumption in a way that has a direct benefit on our health.
6. Fostering a Sense of Community - By supporting your farmers, you help strengthen the local community and meet like-minded people in the process. We all want to belong to something and supporting local farms isn’t limited to farmer’s markets or CSAs. Today, many farms team with local and popular restaurants to host “chef-to-table” or “farm-to-table” dinners that feature the farm’s ripe produce as well as other local fare. I attended one at Starlight Garden Farms in Durham, CT that offered a seven-course meal and was set out in the open field of tomato plants. The food, the atmosphere, the conversation, all made for a memorable event.
To find farmer’s markets in your area, visit Local Harvest, where you can also find farms and their offerings as well as purchase farm-produced products from their online store.