It’s that time of year again!
All through the long, cold, and gray winter months, I’ve looked forward to the return of my local farmers market. And tomorrow is opening day!
My four-year-old is excited, too. He loves to help me look through the heaps of colorful market produce – although getting him to actually taste it requires quite the hard sell. If I want him to eat any “green stuff,” it had better be smothered in cheese or carefully disguised. Oh well. I have faith that, in the long run, our weekly ritual will have a positive influence on his eating habits.
If you are looking to expand your own healthy eating behaviors, I cannot recommend the farmers market enough. But if you’re not familiar with your local market, that first visit can be a little daunting. It is a different experience than shopping the supermarket. I hope that some of the information here will help put you at ease for an enjoyable market experience.
What, Exactly, Are Farmers Markets?
At farmers markets, local farmers and artisans sell goods directly to consumers. There is wide variability in size, setting, and scope. Generally, vendors run tables and booths in an outdoor setting, such as a plaza or park.
Aside from the aforementioned heaps of delicious fruits and vegetables, you are likely to find farm-fresh goodies such as eggs, pasture-raised meats, honey, and baked goods, or hand-crafted items like soaps, floral arrangements, and pottery.
When there is no middleman, you get better bang for your food buck, and the farmers in your community are more fairly compensated for the vital services they provide. Did you know that, on average, farmers only receive about 15 cents per dollar spent by consumers? When you buy directly, you are supporting the livelihood of farmers and contributing to your local economy.
How Do I Find My Local Farmers Market?
Generally speaking, a quick Google search will provide all of the information you need. Most farmers markets are open weekly during the peak harvest season – from spring to fall, typically late April or early May through October. There are, however, some markets that remain open year round. If you live near one, please note that I am jealous.
You can also visit the USDA Farmers Market Directory or the Local Harvest website to search for markets in your area. Just be aware that farmers markets are grassroots operations, and sometimes database information can be slightly out of date.
What Should I Bring To The Farmers Market?
Bring your own bags. Some vendors do provide bags, but using your own helps their bottom line. Plus, it’s environmentally-friendly. I like to bring a small cooler or insulated shopping bag along too, just in case I need to keep something cold.
Bring cash. Some vendors can and do accept cards. Many markets offer tokens that can be purchased with cards and redeemed like cash. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Bring comfy shoes. You’ll likely be doing lots of walking and exploring!
Seven Reasons To Shop At Farmers Markets (*Not An Exhaustive List)
- Everything is local. Not only are you supporting your local farmers, you are getting the freshest possible produce. Supermarket produce is picked early so it can be transported long distances and stored in warehouses before fully ripening on the shelf. Your market produce was probably still in the ground a couple of days ago. It was picked at peak ripeness and is chock-full of nutrients. And you’ll taste the difference.
- There are tons of organic options. Farmers markets offer a wide variety of conventionally and organically grown produce. If you aren’t sure which is which, most farmers are happy to chat about their growing practices. Buying organic is good for your health, as well as the health of your community. Organic farming protects farmworkers and their families, as well as the soil and water.
- It’s affordable. Okay, this one is debatable and depends, to some degree, on the individual vendor. But on average, organic produce tends to run a little cheaper at the farmers market than the supermarket. It’s also worth noting that many farmers markets accept SNAP benefits.
- You will be shopping seasonally. It’s a good idea to shop and eat seasonally as much as possible. Fruits and vegetables grown and harvested in season are fresher and more nutrient-dense. They are easier on the environment, as they require less energy and fewer interventions to grow. Because they are less expensive to produce, they are usually cheaper. And most of the time, they taste a lot better – for proof, try biting into a supermarket tomato in the middle of winter. Yuck.
- You will get to know your farmers. Not sure when artichokes are in season? Not sure what to do with a patty pan squash? Not sure if you should reach for the breakfast radishes or the black radishes? Ask the farmers. They are a wealth of information, and are usually quite happy to share it. Plus, it’s always nice to know who grew the food that nourishes your family. Farmers are basically the unsung heroes of our communities.
- You will engage with your community. Besides connecting you with your local food producers, the farmers market provides ample opportunity to get to know your other neighbors. They’re all around you, shopping, eating, selling crafts, playing music, teaching gardening workshops, and more. Who knows the connections you might make?
- There are so many learning opportunities. I have learned so much about fruits and vegetables: how to recognize different varieties, how to prepare them, how they are grown, which ones grow best in my area, different types of sustainable farming practices – the list goes on and on. I am always excited to sample an unfamiliar food. I love discovering an unusual ingredient to later incorporate into my cooking. Sure, you can learn some of these things online or in regular grocery stores, but it isn’t the same as getting it directly from the farmer or craftsperson.
For all of these reasons and more, today feels a little like Christmas Eve. My bags are at the ready. I’ve already stopped by the ATM. I’m thinking about my favorite booth and the delicious radishes I always find.
And I’m happy because my son is happy. He is hoping for strawberries, as usual, but he also asked me if there will be any “broccoli trees.” Not “green stuff” – “broccoli trees.”
Maybe there’s hope yet!
Do you shop your local farmer’s market? Why or why not? Let us know in a comment!