Reap the Benefits of Local Farmers Markets
Alaina Williams | Jul 10, 2012, 9:22 a.m.
As of June 21 we have officially entered the summer season: a land of opportunity and variety if there ever was one. Day trips and festivals, increased social events with friends and family, and, thanks to your local farmers market, a variety of opportunity to add diversity and locally sourced produce to the meals you prepare for yourself and family.
The number of farmers markets nationwide has increased by 54 percent since 2008, and their popularity is no accident. Farmers markets can provide the unique experience of becoming more connected to your local community while also exploring nutritional alternatives in your diet.
A healthy diet is dependent on both a variety of nutrients as well as getting the proper proportions of various nutrients from your meals. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, however, can get expensive when shopping at your local grocery store. You can often find vegetables and fruits at a farmers market for cheaper than you may find elsewhere. According to the USDA, in 2011 farmers markets helped nearly 900,000 seniors and 2.15 million recipients of public benefits, like WIC, to access fresh fruits and vegetables, and therefore, greater chances for health. With the money you will save per unit, you can buy more of what you love as well as a more diverse ensemble of foods to meet your dietary needs.
Another benefit is that you may be introduced to interesting seasonal and local produce you hadn't yet considered. Seasonal eating can be an invitation to try new recipes or alternatives means to meeting your health requirements. Further, you can talk to the farmers themselves and other patrons about how to prepare various items or why, nutritionally, they would recommend for example, that rhubarb grown in just the next town over.
Produce at farmer's markets is often organic, meaning you are receiving that fruit or vegetable in its most natural state. Not all vendors are certified organic, but you can speak to the vendors directly about their labor and food processing practices. Have you ever heard the phrase, "You are what you eat"? With organic vegetables, you can rest assured that you aren't putting any pesticides or poisons in your body that don't belong there. Since the food is locally sourced, it's not travelling a long distance to reach you. This means that you are receiving it at its ripest; it was likely picked within a few days of the sale and brought to the market.
Farmers markets are a smart economical choice, too, both in terms of your personal budget and consumer responsibility. Vendors are able to charge less for their produce because transportation and labor costs decrease when produce isn't travelling long distances to its consumers. This is great for your wallet, but as an added bonus, patronizing these markets is also great for the local economy and job growth. As the USDA notes on their website, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, the Obama administration has placed a particular emphasis on building local economies through small businesses and locally sourced products. As a consumer, you can be empowered to literally put your money where your mouth is. While you are able to purchase food harvested by others in your local community, you are helping to sustain job growth and local agricultural industries.