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.