Farmers Markets
Fresher, Healthier, Tastier Food



I love going to Farmers Markets. People, pets, kids, music, and fresh food are all around. Farmers markets are fun, support local farms and can help us all eat local and eat better. It’s a fact that the fresher the food, the better it is for you and the better it tastes.

Lots of the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables in the produce section of the supermarket is picked up to a week before it makes it to the store. It may be treated with ethylene gas derived from petroleum and natural gas. Picked and shipped before ripening, these foods will provide a fraction of the nutrition of truly fresh food. Local food through community supported agriculture provides a better alternative.

Cleaner, Greener and Smart

Google ‘food contamination scare’ and from pet food to fast food and everything else in the news, you’ll get over a million matches. Even with strict sanitation methods, the use of chlorine and in some cases irradiation, the agriculture industry can’t seem to avoid contamination and then there is all the difficulty in actually determining the source.

Personally, I trust food grown locally, where I can actually see and perhaps get to know the growers. If locally grown food is contaminated, it is limited in scope and effect since fewer people are impacted and the source is more easily identified. Besides, small farmers aren’t typically located next door to large commercial dairy and beef operations, a likely source of e-coli contamination.

Locally grown food may not only be cleaner, but greener. Some environmentalists point out that supporting local farms can limit real estate development and protect land and open spaces. So much fuel is needed to transport food - an average of 1500 miles and much more when it travels across international borders. So buying more locally produced food (and other items) is good for the environment too.

It’s also smart to focus on investing in the local economy, particularly during an economic downturn. And disruptions in the corporate distribution of the food supply could eventually jeopardize our ability to get adequate amounts of fresh food in our diet. If the demand for fresh, healthy, locally grown produce remains strong, then the supply will be there. And farmers can make more money selling direct to the consumer. Local Harvest distills the entire matter down nicely:

Cheap energy and agricultural subsidies facilitate a type of agriculture that is destroying and polluting our soils and water, weakening our communities, and concentrating wealth and power into a few hands. It is also threatening the security of our food systems, as demonstrated by the continued e-Coli, GMO-contamination, and other health scares that are often seen nowadays on the news.



These large-scale, agribusiness-oriented food systems are bound to fail on the long term, sunk by their own unsustainability. But why wait until we're forced by circumstance to abandon our destructive patterns of consumption? We can start now by buying locally grown food whenever possible. By doing so you'll be helping preserve the environment, and you'll be strengthening your community by investing your food dollar close to home. Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.


Fresh Choices

Farmers Markets

Fruits, vegetables, grass fed beef and bison, goat cheese, honey, eggs – all these can be found at a typical Farmers Market. You may also find unique items from different kinds of artisans – clothing, handmade soaps, and gourmet doggie treats are available at our downtown market. Where we live in the Austin area, there are a number of great markets available, even year-round.

There are plenty of organic options, but even growers who don’t have the organic certification tend to follow sustainable principals and their produce may be much better for you than organic fruits and vegetables that come to the local grocery store from many miles away.

Farmers Markets provide an exciting assortment of fresh vegetables and fruits, and variety. I love all of the different kinds of tomatoes, kinds of cucumbers, kinds of squashes, and kinds of eggplant, for example. Experts believe that by continuing to grow and promote many varieties protects biodiversity as well.

Tomatoes are probably my favorite since our local farmers seem to be actually interested in taste when they select what to grow (not primarily yield or shelf life once the tomato is picked). For years I’ve thought the commercial tomatoes I’d buy from the grocery store were mealy and tasteless. I longed for the mouth watering taste of a fresh tomato like my grandmother in west Texas used to grow. The farmers at our local stands have made me very happy.

The Eat Local Movement

There are many who see the value in eating ‘closer to home’, and like 'carnivore' and 'herbivore', we now have 'localvores' or 'locavores' who prefer food that is grown, raised or produced locally, say within 100 or 150 miles.

This concept of local eating has been the focus of a number of books, notably, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

Eating 100% local may be harder than you think. “Eat Local Challenges” are everywhere and the National Cooperative Grocers Association launched a national challenge to eat local in 2008 with the challenge period varying over the summer months based on your location and the local harvest season.

I have noticed two large grocery chains promoting the ‘local’ trend. But you have to be careful. I read that distribution systems can be convoluted and an item might originate locally, but then make its way many miles to a distribution center, only to be returned to the area from where it came in the first place!

There is some disagreement as to whether it’s more or less expensive to eat more locally grown food. With the large distributors and grocery stores eliminated from the transaction, my experience has been positive. I feel the farmers are really giving me a great deal.

But then I’m focusing on the ‘return on investment’ in eating fresher, more nutrient-rich food – food that hasn’t experienced a lot of artificial intervention. I’m also used to paying Whole Foods Market prices, so the Farmers Markets probably would seem like a bargain in comparison.

Resources

Besides Farmers Markets, there is the CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a wonderful and creative way to obtain fresh farm items and support a local farm operation. Essentially, a membership or subscription is purchased in exchange for farm products. In some cases, the arrangement may also require members work a bit at the farm too. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has a search page to help you locate a Farmers Market in your area and you may also want to check out Local Harvest where you can shop or search for restaurants, farms, farmers markets and CSA’s.

Food Co-ops can be another great source of locally produced food. We are member/owners of the Wheatsville Food Co-op here in Austin and they have lots of local suppliers of food and other products. Visit the Organic Consumers Association website for a list including natural food co-ops in the US, Canada and other countries.

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