Eat Fresh and Local- It's Farmers Market Season!
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
All across the United States more and more people have learned the benefits of eating food that has been locally grown and harvested before coming to their dinner table. Eating local products makes sense environmentally, as the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation are reduced and the food you buy is often picked the day it is sold without requiring refrigeration units. Moreover, eating foods produced in your local area supports farmers and local artisans who are dedicated to making excellent products while helping to keep the community strong. Whether you are in a rural, suburban, or urban setting it's likely that you have access to a local farmers market or food cooperative that is open to the community.
If you're a newbie to the farmers market scene, be aware that not all markets are the same. Here are a few basics to get you started:
Farmers markets are rarely a random collection of local vendors that meet in one place every week or month. Rather, most markets have market managers who organize the event for the season, accept and monitor vendors, and handle everything from advertising to securing market space. If you have a question about your local market or think you have a product to bring to the market as a vendor, contacting the market manager is the best way to get information on the particular market you're interested in.
If you have more than one market in your area, visit each one. Every farmers market has a different 'feel' to it, whether easygoing and casual, or more highly organized and structured. If one visit to a market doesn't impress you, make the effort to try another one. Everyone's tastes are different, and markets appeal to different customers.
Don't expect everything on your regular grocery list. Farmers markets specialize in hosting vendors that produce fruits, veggies, and other foods that are in season in your local area. Have a longing for new, fresh apples in June in New England? You likely won't find them at the farmers market there, since they are not in season at that time. Instead, be open minded before you go and make a plan to use the different types of food that you do find at the market in each month and growing season. If you're not sure what to do with a particular food, ask the vendor; most are more than happy to give you recipes and resources for using new foods. You will be amazed at the new treats you can experience.
Be a conscientious consumer at the market. Just because a farmer sells food from their farm at a farmers market, that is not a guarantee that it is organic. There are specific regulations many areas have for labeling food for sale as 'organic', and those regulations can be quite strict. Foods can be organic, produced using organic methods, grown without chemical pesticides, or simply locally produced. Depending on what your particular family philosophy is about food, any of those may be acceptable to you. However, if you are concerned about the specifics of how food is produced, ask the farmer attending the stand for information on their practices; some organic farmers may also have specific organic certification papers to validate their growing methods. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Be respectful of the grounds at the farmers market. Most markets are held in a neutral area that gives no single vendor a local advantage. Often parks, open space, town-owned land, or public areas are used as good sites that allow for parking and vendor areas. Be aware that trash, debris, or damage done to the grounds may be blamed on the market and can make it difficult for the market to continue in that location. By being a courteous visitor you can help the market keep its current home.
Finally, be respectful of all vendors at the market. If you don't like the produce at one stand, patronize another one, but don't bad-mouth one vendor to another. Markets are very small communities, and gossiping about one participant to another can make for a very unpleasant atmosphere. Have a complaint about a specific person? Speak to someone at that booth. Not happy with the outcome? Contact the market manager to share your complaint. The best statement you can make, however, is to give your hard-earned cash to the vendors you are most happy with.
Farmers markets are growing in popularity all over the United States. They allow us to eat local foods, help our environment, and interact with others from our community. More importantly, eating local foods helps to reconnect us with the natural growing cycles of our areas and encourages us to expand our taste horizons by sampling new items we may have otherwise passed by. Going to farmers markets is a social, culinary, cultural, and environmental experience all wrapped into one visit, and it's a great way to be Positively Green!
Welcome to Positively Green! It's a column dedicated to bringing you new ways of saving, interacting with, and using the natural world with activities that both help the environment and help you grow healthy families and healthy communities. Each month will feature information for your family about a positive green activity, book, program, or community idea. So c'mon, join the fun and go Positively Green!
Have an idea that you'd like to share with other families or a questions you'd like more information about? Contact Positively Green at Families Online Magazine and we'll work on your idea for a future column!
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