An Introduction to Farmer’s Markets

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a college English Composition class and the topic of discussion turned to fossil fuel. After a lengthy talk about the damage it does to the environment, the frighteningly rapid depletion of natural fuel resources, and the stunning amount of fuel that goes into food production alone, a concerned hush fell over the class. Finally, someone said, “So, what can we do about it?”
My response was immediate: “Go to a farmer’s market.”
The concerned hush became a stunned silence. After a minute, a hesitant voice in the corner said, “Mm…What do you actually do at a farmer’s market?”
More silence. Then, another uncertain voice, “Um, buy farmers?”

At this point, it became obvious that some basic clarification was needed. First off, no, you do not buy farmers at a farmer’s market. You actually buy from farmers, and thus support local economies, while greatly decreasing the environmental destruction caused by commercial food production, and getting super tasty, extra healthy food into the bargain.

If you’re wondering how buying your food from a farmer rather than a grocery store is going to help save the world, think about this: it takes roughly 400 barrels of oil per year to feed each person in the U.S. Yes, you read that correctly. If you live in the U.S., you essentially eat 400 barrels of oil a year. Of that, 31% goes to create non-organic fertilizers; and today, the average American food item travels approximately 1,500 miles before it gets to your table. And you were worried about your car’s emissions.

Buying from a farmer’s market circumvents many of these problems. Local food immediately eliminates the transportation costs, and every organic item purchased decreases the amount of chemical fertilizers used yearly. Small scale farming also cuts down on things like agricultural deforestation, the unfair treatment of third-world farmers and plantation workers, and helps to curtail the rampant use of water in commercial agriculture (which accounts for 85% of America’s water use). Most of the farmers who attend farmer’s markets are very environmentally conscious, and are dedicated to producing foods in the healthiest way possible.

All that said, arriving at a farmer’s market for the first time can be a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are a few tips to help you get the best out your trip:

  • Talk to the farmers. Most of them are very excited about their work, and are thrilled to talk about it. A good farmer should tell you where the farm is located, and what types of growing methods are used.
  • Note that not everything at a farmer’s market is organic; but some farmers grow organically and can’t afford the certification to label it as such. Always ask.
  • Have an idea of what’s in season, and don’t expect a farmer to have everything your grocery store does. Remember that farmers have to work with what they can grow and when they can grow it. The grocery store just ships whatever they want from wherever they can get it cheapest.
  • Be open and willing to try new things. Heirloom vegetables may look bizarre if you’re only accustomed to the kind you see in a grocery store, but you will find they taste better than you ever imagined.
  • So what are you waiting for? Find a farmer’s market in your area, and start making your grocery money go towards a sustainable future. If you don’t know of a market in your area, use this site to help you locate one. And, if farmer’s markets just aren’t enough for your new-found local food cravings, you might look into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

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7 Comments

  1. Sylvie

    June 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm
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    excellent post! My family has a 2 acre garden that we farm every year and until a few years ago we had our own shop at our local Farmer’s Market. It’s amazing how much better vegetables and fruits taste from a farmer than they do from the grocery store, and how much healthier they are for you! Another good thing to get at a farmer’s market is eggs. The eggs you see at grocery stores have yellow yolks because they are 2-3 weeks old. Fresh egg yolks are orange, and you can guarantee that farmer’s market eggs are much more fresh than store bought.

    I’ll never go down the produce aisle again.

    • June 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm
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      Yeah for fresh eggs and having your own garden!!!! My family also raises chickens for eggs and dairy goats for raw milk (don’t even get me started on the commercial milk industry). We would love to have our own vegetable garden, but living at almost nine-thousand feet elevation with lots of deer and elk everywhere makes that very difficult.
      I’m so glad to hear from other people who believe in good, local, fresh food!

  2. Emily

    June 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm
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    I work with an awesome local food justice urban farming initiative called the Food Project. I’m an intern with them and have participated in their youth programs for about two years. We do a workshop where we explain about the amount of fossil fuel that goes into getting your food to you in the industrial food system. One of the ways we explain it is that it take about 4 gas calories to get each American 1 food calorie! (We go into how much more efficient it would be to eat gas rather than actual food, if we could) It is crazy exactly how how goes into getting your food to you in the industrial food system, especially compared to the amount to get food to the local farmer’s market!

    • June 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm
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      Hey Emily! How wonderful that you work at an urban farm! I have some really good friends who practically run an urban farm in my area, and it is such an incredible opportunity for people to start getting acquainted with real food.
      That’s a really good point you made about how we now use four calories we are now using to make one calorie. It is totally ridiculous, and it simply isn’t possible to do that and survive in nature. If anybody is interested in reading more about this, I recommend this article.

  3. Lyn

    June 21, 2011 at 2:22 am
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    Awesome post!

    I love Farmer’s Markets. There is actually a pretty decent sized one in my hometown which is great (and the people there are so nice). I don’t get to go as often as I would like, but would like to go more often. Also, another tip for people who have never been before: If you have those reusable shopping bags, bring them, they are a life-saver (and a planet saver).

  4. Rachel

    June 22, 2011 at 8:45 am
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    Isn’t it interesting how much more emphasis is put on using public transport/cycling/carpooling/etc than on purchasing local products, when purchasing local products is better for the environment plus good for your health? Both are of course good for the environment, but, it’s just interesting that there is not more emphasis put on buying local…

    • June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm
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      Good point, Rachel. Buying local products of any kind are better for the both planet and you, in so many ways. Part of the reason that more emphasis is not put on this is simply that people don’t think about it as much. People get in their car and think “oh, I’m emitting carbon” because they can see the exhaust and since they are directly involved, they are more aware of it. When people pick up a pear in the grocery store, the fact that it has traveled from, say, Argentina to get there is just a little note on the sticker; even if people are aware of it’s origins, they still weren’t directly involved so they don’t think about it as much. Nor do most people realize just how much petroleum goes into your average grocery store item.
      On the bright side, this is changing! More and more people are learning about these issues and making a point to buy local products of all kinds. It’s just a matter of educating people, and making local foods available to everyone.

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