5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market

First Time Farmers Market Shoppers You are in for a Treat.

Shopping at the farmers market is an environmentally friendly and fun way to buy fresh and delicious food. It is worth your time and money.

August is an ideal time to try shopping at your local farmers market. At this time of year, you are sure to find a good selection of delectable freshly picked fruits and vegetables that are in season where you live and all of the 8,600 plus farmers markets spread across the country are open, even those that close during cold and snowy months.

Perhaps you are thinking that you would love to be able to buy a vine-ripened tomato that actually tastes like a tomato but you are concerned that shopping at the farmers market will be too time-consuming and/or expensive.

In this post, I will attempt to convince you that it is worth your time and money to expand your food shopping horizons to include shopping at the farmers market.

Your Body Will Thank You

Intellectually, you and I know we need to eat fresh and nutritious food to stay healthy and help our bodies heal when we get sick or injured. Sadly, today’s food landscape makes it challenging to eat a healthy diet.

A major barrier to healthy eating is that humans have a predisposition to crave sugar, fat, and salt, which were rare in the diets of our early ancestors but are now available everywhere 24 hours a day.

Fortunately, for you and me, fresh fruits and vegetables are front and center at the farmers market making it easy to choose healthy food without the distractions found in a typical supermarket like huge pyramids of boxed soft drinks, aisles crammed with overly processed and junk foods, and the dreaded candy shelves at the checkout counter.

Empower yourself to eat a healthy diet by shopping at the farmers market.

Freshly Picked Produce Stays Fresh Longer

At the farmers market, you can buy the freshest fruits and vegetables available (outside of your own garden); sometimes harvested the same day you buy them. This means produce will stay fresher once you bring it home and properly store it, which reduces food waste and saves you money.

For example, if you purchase a bunch of freshly picked basil at the farmers market it will stay fresh in your refrigerator for a week or more and it may actually cost less than at the supermarket.

The basil you purchase at the supermarket has already been on the road for several days to a week, endured multiple handling sessions, and hung out in the produce section for an unknown number of days by the time you come along and purchase it. No wonder store bought basil often starts wilting and turning brown around the edges after just a few days in your refrigerator.

Think about this. In the past week, what food did you toss because it was past its prime or spoiled? When you chuck uneaten food into the garbage, you are wasting all the resources and people power that went into growing and harvesting it and throwing your money in the trash.

Buy Fruits and Vegetables Grown for Deliciousness versus Durability

From a fruit and vegetable deliciousness standpoint, supermarkets just cannot compete with the farmers market.

Fresh Ripe Peaches from the Farmers Market
Fresh Ripe Peaches from the Farmers Market

Farmers who sell directly to customers can focus their energy on growing delicious fruits and vegetables, whereas a supermarket must also be concerned with durability.

Supermarkets require fruits and vegetables that can withstand mechanized harvesting, shipping by the ton, grading for size and appearance, boxing and crating, and traveling long distances. Unfortunately, many durable produce items are not tasty.

A few immediately come to mind like tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. You can probably think of others.

When I was a kid, we ate freshly picked delicious peaches all through the summer from a few peach trees my dad had planted in our backyard so I know what a fresh peach should taste like.

As an adult, after years of buying peaches at the supermarket that were usually mealy, bruised, tasteless, or all of the above, I finally decided to quit buying peaches and wasting my money.

Then one day a few years ago, I discovered a stall at the farmers market selling baseball-sized peaches that were juicy, tangy, and sweet and tasted like a peach should taste. Now, I buy peaches from the farmers market when they are in season.

Granted these peaches do cost more per pound than peaches at the supermarket but there is no comparison in freshness and taste. Do you ever splurge on lattes, specialty juices, or ice cream treats? Why not splurge on peaches.

Savor Locally Produced Food Products

In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, many farmers markets also sell eggs, cheese, meat, bread, olive oil, nuts, and prepared foods made by local people often using ingredients they grew themselves.

Snack foods sold at the farmers market are not highly processed junk foods made to last indefinitely on store shelves. If you purchase a bag of tortilla chips or a package of candied almonds, chances are you will be able to recognize all the ingredients on the label.

Trying food products from the farmers market is fun, tasty, and helps support your local economy, not some faceless corporation.

Support Sustainable Agriculture

When you shop at the farmers market, you have an opportunity to actually meet and talk with the people who grew the food you are buying.

These farmers live and work in your community or region and they have a vested interest in practicing sustainable agriculture. They often grow a variety of seasonal crops suitable for the climate in which they farm, which is good for maintaining healthy soil and keeping pests down. Many of the farmers grow and sell USDA certified organic fruits and vegetables meaning they are grown without pesticides or herbicides and are GMO-free.

Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market
Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market

Food at the farmers market travels short distances reducing fossil fuel use and air pollution. Also, since it does not have to survive the supermarket durable food process, the food sold at farmers markets saves on water, energy, and resources.

When you shop at the farmers market, you are supporting local farmers so they can make a living and be good stewards of their land.

I hope that at least one of the above reasons for shopping at the farmers market appeals to you and you are ready to give it a try.

Tips for First Time Farmers Market Shoppers

You may already know when and where there is a farmers market near you. If not, type “farmers market” and the name of your “city” into your web browser.

Getting ready for your first trip to the farmers market is easy.

  • Grab your reusable shopping bags.
  • Make sure you have some cash (small bills are usually appreciated).
  • Bring your adventurous spirit along.

Imagine yourself strolling through the farmers market carrying your reusable shopping bags chock full of freshly picked and delicious fruits and vegetables, a loaf of freshly baked bread, and a jar of homemade spaghetti sauce. Now, off you go.

National Farmers Market Week is August 6-12, 2017 so some markets may be having special events or promotions making your first farmers market visit, even more, fun and interesting.

Featured Image at Top: National Farmers Market Week 2017 Logo – Image by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

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Food Waste Reduction Challenge – Let’s Eat the Food We Buy

Would you toss a $10 bill in your garbage can every week? Probably not, yet millions of Americans spend that and more buying food and later throwing it away. 1

Growing crops and raising animals for food requires a massive amount of land, water, and energy, so does the harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, storing, selling, preparing, and disposing of it. Food loss and waste occur during every phase of food production and consumption including on farms, at processing plants, on the road, at stores and restaurants, and in our homes.

Crops Being Watered by Sprinklers

In 2012, 34.7 millions of tons of food ended up in U.S. landfills. At 21.1%, food made up the largest category of waste by weight. 2

When we fill up landfills with food instead of filling up people, we squander all the resources that went into producing it, waste its valuable nutrition, and throw away a huge amount of money.

It is up to each one of us to do our part in reducing food waste and we can begin today by figuring out how to stop wasting food in our own households.

Why Do People Waste Food?

If asked directly, I expect most if not all people would say they do not purposefully waste food; however, an enormous amount of food is indeed wasted. This is a case of saying one thing and doing another. Clearly, our society views wasting food as an acceptable and perhaps unavoidable practice. I believe this is the root of the problem.

As you push your shopping cart around the grocery store or wander through the farmer’s market, I doubt you are thinking, “I wonder what food I can buy that I won’t eat and will eventually throw in the trash.” I believe we intend to eat the food we buy, but we chronically overbuy, prepare too much food, and are overly optimistic about what our family members or we will and can actually eat.

Woman Scraping Uneaten Food off Plate into Garbage Can

Extra food finds its way into our shopping carts. We grab a bunch of kale because we know we should eat it (even though we hate kale), we load up on hamburger because it is on sale (but forget to freeze part of it when we get home), or we pick up a baguette on the way to the checkout stand (adding it to the two loaves of bread already in the cart).

We do not want to run short of food at meals so we make extra, especially on special occasions when we anticipate people will want seconds or even thirds. At the end of meals, we scrape uneaten food into the garbage disposal or kitchen trash, and the un-served food either follows or is spooned into leftover containers and put in the fridge in hopes that someone else will come along and eat it.

Be honest, does any of this sound familiar?

Our Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Fortunately, my spouse is a dedicated leftovers eater, but we still waste food. A few days ago, I snapped some photos of food waste around our kitchen and later my spouse and I discussed how to avoid wasting food like this in the future.

Oranges

Plate of Oranges with One Spoiled OrangeLast week, we bought a 5-pound bag of oranges at the farmer’s market. The grower does not spray the oranges with chemicals to extend their shelf life, which we appreciate, but the oranges began to spoil before we could eat them all. This is not the first time this has occurred. Our supposed savings for buying in bulk vanish when we end up putting rotten oranges in our composter.

We could start squeezing some of the oranges for juice, but we do not do that now and are unlikely to start. We decided to keep it simple and buy fewer oranges (duh).

Fresh Herbs

We enjoy cooking with fresh herbs but it is difficult to use them up before they dry out or spoil. Sometimes smaller bunches of herbs are available in plastic cartons but that seems more wasteful than wilted herbs ending up in the compost pail.

We could grow our own herbs and cut what we need, but honestly, we are not going to do that. Not buying fresh herbs seems too drastic. We decided to avoid buying fresh herbs sold in plastic cartons and redouble our efforts to use the herbs we do buy.

Salad Dressing

Open Hardly Used Salad DressingsIt was actually my salad dressing collection that prompted this post.

Several months ago in a quest to expand my salad dressing horizons, I bought a new flavor. It was okay but I did not really like it so I bought another bottle, then another and another. As I surveyed these open hardly used bottles, I realized this was a wasteful and costly practice. Technically, my salad dressing collection is not food waste yet, but it would be eventually.

We decided not to buy another bottle of salad dressing until we use all the bottles we currently have on hand, probably not on salads, but in marinades, sauces, and anything else we can dream up.

To make it fun, we will put a $5 bill in a jar on our kitchen counter every time we use up an old bottle of salad dressing. When it is all gone, we will treat ourselves with the money we saved.

Try Your Own Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Games are popular with people of every age and nowadays workplace learning is undergoing gamification in many companies. I believe games can be an effective way to help people learn and change their behavior by making it fun.

Whether you have kids at home or not, or live on your own, identifying and reducing food waste in your home can be educational and fun. Here are a couple of thought starters to get your creative juices flowing.

Food Waste Survey Game

Pink Piggy Bank on Top of Stack of CoinsObjective: to learn what food you throw away and how much it is worth.

Game Play: record each food item you dispose of for a month (a minimum of two weeks if you cannot hack a month). Do not include plate scrapings, but do include leftovers you throw out. At the end of the month, tally the cost of the discarded food by estimating or using receipts. Place that amount in cash and coins in a jar on the kitchen counter and let it sit there for at least two weeks, then donate it to a food bank.

Food Waste Reduction Game

Objective: to reduce food waste in your home and learn how much money you can save.

Game Play: place an empty bowl in a prominent location on the kitchen counter. Find something to use as markers, such as poker chips, pennies, or elbow macaroni and place a hundred or so in a jar (add more later, if needed). Determine the value of the marker; say $0.50, $1.00, or whatever works for you. Each time someone eats leftovers, or crackers from the open box or a piece of produce on the edge of spoiling, put a marker in the bowl (it may be useful to determine ‘acceptable’ actions ahead of time). At the end of the month, count the markers and decide what to do with the money you saved.

Do you have an idea for a food waste reduction game? Share it with other readers in the comments section.

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References

  1. NRDC – Saving Leftovers Saves Money and Resources, last revised 2014/11/19
  2. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012, February 2014

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