Monday, April 20, 2015

Nine Reasons to Shop at Local Farmers' Markets

Jersey Fresh         (photo: Jan Barry)

By Samantha Bell

Which of these two scenarios sounds more vibrant for overall quality of life and health?

1) The wind on your face, the sun on your skin, you talk with a local farmer about the size and taste of this year’s harvest of peaches, as you pop a slice in your mouth. After tasting several different varieties, you choose your favorite one, walking away with a great memory of the farmer in your mind.

2) You stand shivering in the freezer section at your local mega-mart, your eyes beginning to glaze over from the halogen lights and the neon-colored cardboard boxes containing substances claimed to be food products. You decide on the one with the least amount of additives and make your way to the self-checkout line, excited to get in your car and out of the supermarket.

Clearly, most of us would agree that the first scenario, at the local farmers' market, is much more appealing than a trip to a big chain grocery store. But what, besides the aesthetic factor, are some of the other benefits of supporting your local farmers' market?

From savoring produce at the peak of freshness to meeting the people who grow your food, there are countless reasons to support farmers markets. Here are just a few!

1. Buying Locally

Buying from your local farmer allows you to support local agriculture. This means that the food you are eating comes from nearby, and does not require wasting lots of energy and petroleum to ship the food halfway around the world. You are eating food in your own environment, where it has perfectly created nutrients for your specific climate and region. You are also supporting the environment by reducing the usage of fossil fuels.

The fruits and vegetables you buy at the farmers' market are the freshest and tastiest available. Fruits are allowed to ripen fully in the field and are brought directly to you—no long-distance shipping from across the country, no gassing to simulate the ripening process, no sitting for weeks in storage. This food is as real as it gets—fresh from the farm.

2. Enjoy the Season

The food you buy at the farmers' market is seasonal. It is fresh and delicious and reflects the truest flavors. This is another great way to increase your overall health. Supermarkets offer too much variety and the food is often picked before it has ripened, decreasing the vitality. The body does not need to be eating imported pineapple in the dead of a New Jersey winter!

Shopping and cooking from the farmers' market helps you to reconnect with the cycles of nature in your region. As you look forward to asparagus in spring, savor sweet corn in summer, or bake pumpkins in autumn, you reconnect with the earth, the weather, and the turning of the year.

3. It’s Healthier

All food loses nutritional value over time. As a consumer, you have the luxury to be more strategic and thoughtful about your purchases if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Locally grown and raised foods are often considered superior when it comes to higher levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals. According to Kathleen Frith of the Harvard School of Public Health, locally grown food “ensure[s] maximum freshness, flavor, and nutrient retention” by significantly minimizing the processes of conventional practices.

Farmers' markets are local and direct, and produce is usually offered within 24 hours post-harvest, at the climax of maturity and therefore with the highest level of nutrition.

4. Support Family Farmers

Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness GMO food companies dominate food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace.

Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy. Your belly will remember the farmer’s smile as they handed you that juicy peach.

5. Protect the Environment

Not only are you doing good for yourself by frequenting farmers' markets, you’re making a positive environmental statement and impact.

Buying local is better for the environment simply because there’s significantly less energy and environmental degradation involved in the production, distribution, and sales of any particular item.

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate, according to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes to pollution, and creates trash with extra packaging.

Compared to big corporations, buying local requires less fuel and produces less CO2 emissions.

In the food you purchase at farmers' markets, there are zero (in the case of Certified Organic) or a minuscule amount of preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers that can penetrate the soil, destroy the biodiversity of the land, and contaminate water supply through run off.

By buying your produce locally, you’re doing more than making a healthy choice; you’re supporting sustainable and local agricultural practices, which in turn helps to save the earth.

6. Nourish Yourself

By now, we all know that the processed options we find in the supermarkets are not the best choice for our health. Most food found in grocery stores are highly processed and grown using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification. These practices may have negative effects on human health.

Fresh, whole foods are the way to go and the farmers' market is where to find them with the least amount of mass production. Shopping at the farmers' market leads us to food at its seasonal best, and without so many temptations to impulse buy nutritionally devoid junk.

7. Discover the Spice of Life: Variety

At the farmers' market you find an amazing array of produce that you don’t see in your average supermarket: red and yellow carrots, a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, purple cauliflower, stinging nettles, wild spinach and other greens, green garlic, watermelon radishes, mini squash, and much, much more. It is such an amazing opportunity to see what our unique planet has to offer.

8. Know Where Your Food Comes From

A regular trip to a farmers' market is one of the best ways to connect with where your food comes from. Meeting and talking to farmers and food artisans is a great opportunity to learn more about how and where food is produced.

9. Connect With Your Community

Wouldn’t you rather stroll around the outdoor stalls of fresh produce on a sunny day than roll your cart around a grocery store with artificial lights and piped in music? Coming to the farmers' market makes shopping a pleasure rather than a chore. The farmers' market is a community hub—a place to meet up with your friends, bring your pets, or just get a taste of small-town life in the midst of a big city.

For the health conscientious and informed consumer (you!), farmers' markets are a readily accessible opportunity for wellbeing and development. Nutritionally, educationally, socially, and environmentally, there are so many benefits to shopping at your local farmers' market.

So what are you waiting for? Get down to your local farmers' market pronto; it’s time we give back to the real food industry, the one that has our best interest (and the planet’s) in mind.

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