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?
- 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.