Fresh from the Farmers’ Market

Farmers' Markets build healthy communities

Farmers' Markets build healthy communities

September is boom time at farmers’ markets. Other than a few berries and spring crops, you can get nearly all of the summer and fall produce. There are more squashes this week than last, and winter squashes are starting to show up (though the pumpkins in my garden are only just starting to look like pumpkins). Many farmers’ markets post what’s fresh at the market that week on their websites or in newsletters.

It seems clear that when people know their food producers, they have more trust in the safety of the food. After the egg recall a couple of weeks ago, farmers’ markets saw much higher sales of eggs, and they sold out much earlier in the day. One market manager interview by MSNBC said, “At the farmers’ market, you can shake the hand of the farmer who collected your egg that morning and I think that is much more reassuring.”

We try to reduce our impact, so food miles (the number of miles your food travels to reach you) matter. We look for nutritious foods that haven’t been drained of their goodness by suspicious chemistry in the field and processing after harvest, so organic matters. But, far more important in my mind than the broader environmental impact and nutrition is the safety of our food. Buying food that is grown locally by people whose hands you shake when you buy is not just a personally satisfying experience but an implied relationship of trust that they aren’t selling you a product that is going to make your children sick.

Beyond that implied relationship, you can build relationships that keep local producers accountable. You can observe food safety at the market (are meat and eggs chilled?) and you can take steps to keep your food clean (by washing fruits and vegetables well) and safe (by keeping dairy products cool). You can’t necessarily see how the food was treated before it arrived at the market, but you can talk to the farmer, ask what they think about food safety in the news, and ask how they handle food at the farm. Farmers’ markets are governed by food safety rules—rules that giant food corporations would like to use to squeeze small farms out of business—and they will most certainly have opinions about food safety that they are willing to share.

Farmers’ markets are an essential part of a larger system of health and safety not just of food but of community and earth. What’s fresh at your farmers’ market this week?


Resources

  • Farmers’ Markets Canada lists provincial farmers’ market associations, which will lead you to your local market.
  • Local Harvest (“real food. real farmers. real community.”) lists farmers’ markets in the U.S. along with a lot of other local food producers.

Image © Lee Snider | Dreamstime.com

Planning for Local Foods This Season

Farmers MarketMy local CSAs (community supported agriculture or community shared agriculture) are finishing sign-up for the season this week. I’ve also heard local radio covering our farmers’ market preparations for the year, though my local farmer’s market doesn’t actually open until June. It’s a bit early for planting out in my climate, since we only finished having freak snow storms a couple of weeks ago, but I can hear all of the talk about local food building up to summer season.


CSA

With community supported agriculture, you buy a share of whatever is harvested by the farm in a particular week. There is not usually a guarantee that you will receive a minimum amount of produce. By buying a share in a season’s harvest you share the risk and the benefit. If there is a bumper crop, you share in that as well.

In the early sprint you buy shares, then each week from summer through fall you receive produce from the farm. Some farms have community events and shares in labor (you pick) while others have weekly home or central-location delivery. Some farms are veg only while others include fruit; some also include dairy and meat. Each farm is different in what and how it operates.

The best CSA I was ever involved in welcomed my family to not only pick our own produce but to take as much as we wanted when there was more produce than they could comfortably distribute. We loved picking apples and walking through the farm.

CSA Resources
Local Harvest CSA Directory (U.S.)
Organic Consumers Home Delivery Directory (U.S., Canada, & International)
CSA Listing (U.S. & International)
Ontario CSA Directory (Ontario only)


Farmers’ Market

Like CSAs, farmers’ markets allow you, the eater, to get to know the people who grow the food you eat. The distribution chain is very short. You eat food that was grown locally and picked recently, often the day before you buy it at the market.

With a farmers’ market, though, you see the produce before you buy. The great benefit of a farmers’ market is seeing a big variety of produce available all in one place. If you want the best choice, you have to arrive early.

Some farmers’ markets also include non-farm products (crafts, for example) or entertainment. My farmers’ market is like a weekly festival.

Farmers’ Market Resources
Farmers’ Markets Ontario (Ontario only)
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Market Search (U.S.)


Seasonal Eating

When you build a relationship with a farmer through a CSA or a farmers’ market, you eat fresh food in season and, especially when you get much more of a crop than expect, you learn to preserve food. Focusing on local foods tends to encourage us to focus on seasonal foods, which keeps our food miles and the overall impact of our eating lower.

Local / Seasonal Eating Resources
Rodale Institute Farm Locator (Canada & U.S.)
Eat Well Guide to farms, markets, and restaurants (Canada & U.S.)
National Sustainable Agriculture Directory (U.S.)
Foodland Ontario seasonal availability guide (Ontario only)
Canadian Organic Growers Search (Canada)
Slow Food International (includes links to national organizations)
Natural Resources Defense Council Food Miles search

Image © Jim Boardman | Dreamstime.com