It happened to us...
several years ago, we fell in love with the farmers’ market. As our eating habits changed, we started to notice a huge difference between the food from the farmers’ market and what we were buying at the store.
So, how did it start?
We picked a Saturday and headed to the closest market, bought some fresh produce and locally-raised meats and the rest is history! It took a few visits, which included trying new foods and getting out of our comfort zone, but as we experienced the quality and flavor...we were quickly hooked. Those freshly-picked cherry tomatoes taste like candy! And, it doesn’t get much better than an EBLT sandwich using freshly-baked bread, local bacon, fresh eggs, lettuce and tomatoes…all from the hands of local farmers and producers! (Look at the in-season goodies we bought this weekend!)
Shake the hand that feeds you!
Plus, there’s something about developing a relationship with the people growing and harvesting your food that gives you an appreciation for the care and hard work that goes into getting those amazing foods to the market. We have experienced the wonderful benefits of the farmers’ market for several years now, but also know that some people are intimidated by the market or hesitant to make it part of their routine.
As farmers’ markets are now opening in many parts of the country, we want to share some perspective…
First, how does the market compare to the typical grocery store? The store does provide convenience and variety, but the market competes very well in terms of nutrition, quality and price.
- Freshness! Grocery store produce can travel as much as 1,300 miles before it’s available at the local store. It's not as fresh because it must be picked before it’s ripe and is not able to ripen on the vine. This explains why store bought tomatoes aren’t as juicy and vibrant as a ripe tomato freshly picked from the farm or garden. Most produce at the farmers’ market is picked 24 hours before we buy it -- now, that is fresh!
- Nutrients! Not only does picking early affect the freshness, but it also affects the nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables. Being able to fully ripen also means fully developing its nutritional content.
- Fewer pesticides! While some growers may not be "certified organic," most try to avoid or minimize pesticide use.
- It's local! There is no better way to meet the people growing your food. They can provide first-hand customer service…and they know their product because they have grown it. What a great feeling to know the money you spend on food is helping a local farmer and their family…and keeping them in business to continue providing fresh, local food!
- Educational opportunity! Shopping at the farmers' market can be educational for the whole family -- our kids have enjoyed learning where our food comes from. They love knowing we are eating “Linda and Keith’s grass-fed beef“ or "Jimmy's okra!”
- Safety! Regulations for local producers aren’t always as stringent, but there is typically less time and handling required to get the food from the field to market. With most producers, this risk is very well managed.
- Don't be afraid to ask! Ask producers about their practices and observe what is happening at their booths.
- Best time to go? If you want the best of what’s available and the best variety, go early! Items with limited quantities are often gone within the first hour. If you go towards the end of the market, the variety won’t be as great, but you might be able to get a deal on what’s left.
- Bring cash! Although there are some farmers who accept credit cards, you will be better off to bring cash – and small bills if you have them.
- Bring your own bags! This is a perfect opportunity to use your favorite bags to load up on your market finds. Just keep the bags in your trunk so they are always there when you need them!
- Farm fresh eggs! Eggs should be stored at 45 degrees F or cooler, which explains why you typically see farmers pull eggs out of a cooler. This also explains why farmers normally won't have eggs out on display. When purchasing eggs, if the farmer doesn't check for you, it is a good idea to make sure the eggs are clean and not cracked before buying them.
- Meat should be kept cool! It is also a good sign when vendors pull meat or poultry out of coolers. In most cases, the meat will be frozen. Bringing an insulated bag or cooler will help keep meat cool until you get home. It is also a good idea to use separate bags for meat so juices don't contaminate other food or produce.
- Local honey! Raw, local honey does indeed have health benefits (alleviating seasonal allergies, with some good scientific studies to back it up) and the farmers' market is a great place to stock up!
- Pasteurized? If buying juice or cider, make sure it has been pasteurized to kill any bacteria. This applies to milk too. If you purchase unpasteurized products, make sure to manage the risks appropriately.
- Bring a cooler! Since farmers’ markets are in full swing in warm weather, be mindful of the temperature. Don't leave your treasured market finds in the hot car - try to plan to either head home after the market or bring a cooler!
- Sweet treats in moderation! Just remember, not EVERY SINGLE THING at the farmers' market is good for you. Home baked pies and cinnamon rolls are not magically "good for you." Enjoy them in moderation but keep in mind...they are still "pies!"
Confessions of a former "Farmers' Market Shunner"...Zonya!
I value nutrition and time equally. So much so, I have always loved one-stop shopping. "From toilet paper to toothpaste to tomatoes, get it all over and done with in as little time as possible." That was my mantra. I am embarrassed to confess that I have on several occasions secretly rolled my eyes when I've heard my friends go "on and on" about their love of farmers' markets! But let me tell you...never say never! I admit after just two trips a few summers ago, my rather mundane and unmemorable "have to" grocery shopping task became my "get to" activity! In my eye-opening conversations with local farmers, I learned the food they lovingly produce is absolutely fresher, tastier and healthier! These days, I am a dedicated farmers' market shopper, and now that the weather in Michigan is finally cooperating, I CAN'T WAIT to go! It is now as much of a highlight to my summer as waterskiing and visiting with my neighbors over the grill!
Enjoy the season and check it out!
Hopefully, this helps rest any unease you or someone you know may have about shopping at the farmers’ market. If you haven't already, make time to visit the market -- you may decide you love it like we do!
Be adventurous and try new things! In the Midwest right now you can enjoy in-season asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries, just to name a few! Remember, you won’t find everything you might find at the store (which is a good thing), because what’s available is what’s “in season” or growing locally at that time. Not sure what to do with kale or beets? Don't leave the market empty handed -- bring some home and let Eat REAL America help you with delicious ideas! Chances are, you will find some great-tasting new favorites! And, please, please, please leave the market with MORE than just tomatoes!
"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you."