Someone recently asked why I bother to shop at farmer’s markets. The question took me by surprise. The answer seemed obvious, and yet I burbled on incoherently. Afterwards I sat down to give it more thought. Here are the top 10 reasons why I shop at farmer’s markets. Which, if any, are important to you? Maybe you have others to add?
Freshness. Farmer markets sell recently harvested produce–usually less than 24 hours since harvesting. Farmer market produce is much fresher than store-bought, which has gone several days, if not weeks, since harvest.
Locally grown. Items at farmer markets have not “travelled” far. The carbon footprint to transport from nearby farms is teeny compared to what’s consumed over hundreds and thousands of miles by sea, air, or long-distance trucking. Also, local produce is stacked in wooden crates, which avoids the environmentally polluting packaging that protects produce from bruising or extends its time before perishing in long-distance transport. (Think of those sturdy plastic tubs of lettuce and the resulting pollutants & landfill space.)
Nutritional value. Nutritional value sharply declines as time passes. Foods that have been sitting on grocery shelves, or in warehouses, or traveled long distances, suffer nutritionally. The goal is to eat food as soon as possible after it’s been harvested. Nutritional content is greater with fresh and local foods since they’ve been harvested recently and haven’t taken as long to arrive on one’s plate.
Better taste. Sample a strawberry that was recently picked. Not only does nutrition improve when eating local, seasonal produce, but flavor also skyrockets. Items are picked at their peak, not artificially “forced” or “restrained” from reaching ripeness.
Cleaner and safer. Farmer market produce is grown organically or with far less use of chemicals. Produce sold in regular stores is full of toxic pesticides, fungicides, and other chemical fertilizers and sprays. Similarly, breads & baked goods aren’t pumped full of unhealthy preservatives that extend shelf life.
Custom sizing. Pick one or two carrots if that’s all you need. You won’t be forced to buy an entire bag. Same with other items. Buy portions that match your needs, which means less waste and less over-eating.
Control what you’re getting. Inspect items for freshness. You won’t be forced to buy items that are pre-packaged and hard to tell their quality. In stores, foods & herbs are often sold in sealed containers. How often do you get home and open them only to find they’re over-ripe, wilted, or slimy?
Keep our communities healthy. The more we support local farmers who grow food in healthy ways, the more they–and their beautiful farmland–will flourish. Buying at local markets puts money directly into the pockets of local farmers and craftspeople rather than industrial conglomerates.
Free exercise. We can often walk or bike to the markets, getting free exercise. Besides, simply walking in the open air is good for Vitamin D.
Fun and educational for the whole family. Engaging with farmers & local artisans can be full of discovery and excitement. Bring the kids. Ask for tips/recipes on how to prepare food in healthy, tasty ways. Bump into neighbors and friends. Enjoy a sense of shared belonging and caring. Shopping in grocery stores can be an isolating experience and a chore. By contrast, shopping at farmer markets reinforces social bonds and can be a fun activity for the whole family.
(A version of this appeared in an article I wrote for Foxnews.com.)