Last week, Aug. 7-13, communities across the country celebrated National Farmers Market Week. I joined in by heading to my favorite Dane County Farmers Market. As the largest producer-only market in the country, it surrounds Madison’s Capitol Square with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, baked goods, flowers and more. It’s a beloved Saturday tradition and a definite must-do destination.
What’s the big deal about farmers markets and why is it so important to support them?
The most obvious reasons are the opportunity to taste food at its best and to meet the farmers who produce it. But here are five equally important reasons.
1. Seasonal Flavor
Long before the days of picking produce in an unripened state, stockpiling it in warehouses and then trucking it cross-country, people ate differently. They ate seasonally. That is to say they harvested food grown in their own good earth at the time it was peak in ripeness, and they then either ate it or home-preserved it while it was still fresh. If they were Midwesterners, they ate asparagus in spring, tomatoes in summer, and apples in autumn. Because withstanding the rigors of transportation was not an issue, these now-heritage varietals were grown with an emphasis on flavor. They were nutritious and, oh, so full of natural tastiness.
Farmers markets allow us to go back to those times. They enable us to celebrate the God-given rhythm of growing seasons and purchase foods at their highest quality. On top of that, farmers markets offer a wonderful diversity, with many varietals we’ll never find in commercial groceries.
A great book on the benefits of eating seasonally is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.
2. Environmentally Friendly
Scientific American coined the term “5,000-mile salad” in reference to the global distance an increasing number of our store-bought fruits and vegetables travel. Conversely, many farmers markets require vendors to sell food produced within a specified distance, some as low as 50–100 miles. Buying from the farmers market means you’re spending your dollars on food, not fossil fuels.
Americans have developed an insatiable appetite for healthy food and farmers markets are rising to meet the demand. Saturday, as I moved in a shoulder-to-shoulder flow of people, I noticed a majority of venders advertising themselves as using organic and GMO-free practices.
Market vendors love to discuss farming with their customers. They share a contagious energy for growing good food and protecting the soil in which its grown.
I went to Saturday’s market to supplement my own garden with poblano peppers for Marisa McClellan’s corn salsa recipe. I happily came away with a few extra items, all for less than $20.
- 2 bags squeaky fresh cheese curds: $5 each
- 1 lb. crowns-only broccoli: $1
- 2 lb. carrots: $2
- 4 poblano and red peppers: $2.75
Shopping seasonally and locally enables us to buy better quality for less money. Take this $1 broccoli, for example. Apparently my area is having a bountiful year for cruciferous vegetables and they’re priced exceptionally low. Next week, after I’ve finished canning corn, I’ll be back for more broccoli to put up for winter. Fresh, local, inexpensive—how can I go wrong?
Healthy, organic food has a reputation of being too costly but farmers markets debunk such nonsense. Farmers markets offer us a way to eat healthy and economically all year long.
The farmers market is just plain fun. It’s a bringing together of humanity to celebrate one of our most basic joys and needs—food. Good food! At the Dane County Farmers Market, families gather for picnics on the Capitol lawn. Street musicians bring festivity to the air. Dancers entertain us. At my small, hometown Tuesday market, friends and neighbors greet one another by name. The honey vendor offers me, a newbie beekeeper, helpful advice and happily takes my empty jars for recycling.
5. Support for the Local, Sustainable Farmer
I have a soft spot for the self-employed. I revere those with the moxie to separate themselves from corporate America, those with a drive for something more than money—in this case, food that won’t poison us or the earth. For these entrepreneuring hearts, a farmers market is the land of opportunity.
A farmers market is where the handcrafted soapmaker supplements the family’s income so he or she can stay home with the kids. Where immigrants can make a living and connect with the community. Where whole families can work together and kids gain the confidence that comes with business and social skills. Where the high school musician can earn money for college. Where farmers can continue in small, organic practices because there are customers who share their passion for quality food.
Supporting your local farmers market affords these opportunities to continue. If local farmers succeed, they will continue providing us with quality food and they will invest their earnings back into our community. Their success is our success.
Another great book is Gaining Ground, by Forrest Pritchard. It’s the hard-work-and-economics story of establishing his grass-finished beef in the Washington D.C. farmers markets.
A Farmers Market Near You
Looking for market locations and schedules? Here is a national directory. Also, here is a south-central Wisconsin directory (it’s a social media post I did for Forward Mutual—I can write for your organization too, by the way:-).