Eating Local and In Season: A Farmers’ Market Guide
Rebecca Robin, IIN Content Editor
Everyone says how important it is to eat fresh, local produce – but why is this the case?
There’s a certain thrill in spending a weekend morning strolling through your local farmers’ market, searching for a perfectly crisp apple or the ripest selection of blueberries. However, the benefit of buying and eating local produce goes far beyond the satisfaction of a day well spent outdoors. Supporting your local farms is a great way to invest in your community, enjoy fruits and vegetables at their peak nutritional value, and reduce the carbon footprint that mass food production and distribution leave on our earth.
Plus, seasonal produce just tastes better! Farmers’ markets offer the best products of the season, with produce that tastes richer in flavor and is abundant in supply. You can find a variety of unique and wholesome items at a farmers’ market, such as artisanal breads, meats and cheeses, jams, and fresh-cut flowers and plants. The fall season is one that often inspires people to take more advantage of local markets and to cook homemade dishes with seasonal ingredients.
Here are examples of the seasonal produce available around the world during the months of July–September:
- Bok choy
- Japanese eggplant
- Brussels sprouts
For the full list, download our free Farmers’ Market Guide.
Supporting your local farmers’ market on a regular basis is important for four major reasons:
1. You’re investing directly in your community.
Local farms are often family-owned businesses, and come together at farmers’ markets organized by local governments or organizations. These farms rely heavily on community support, as they are competing with the larger agribusinesses that dominate food production. When you buy from local farms directly, it gives them a better chance to survive in the greater food marketplace. It also allows farms to support their workers and provide for their livelihoods. Take a look at your usual grocery list and try to purchase some items from a local market instead, investing your money back into your community.
In the United States and Canada, you can join a community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which you support a local farm by purchasing shares of its production. Signing up for a CSA can help you feel more connected to your food, as you will know exactly where it’s coming from, and will allow you to to get to know the farmers growing your food! Before signing up, you can learn what type of farming methods are used, whether or not the farm uses pesticides, if their cows are grass-fed, or if their chickens are pasture-raised. CSA provides an infrastructure for communities to have access to local foods, reducing the cost of your typical groceries by providing a direct link to farmers who have a large bulk of seasonal items.
Food is an essential part of our lives, so it’s important to pay attention to how our food is grown and produced. A farmers’ market creates space for community members to gather and discuss nutrition and agricultural practices, building a relationship between farmers and their consumers. Networks of farmers’ markets like Local Harvest and USDA Local Food Directories connect communities to their food systems, transforming the ways that people shop and eat.
2. You’re getting a higher nutritional value from your produce.
Did you know that fruits and vegetables begin to lose some key nutrients within 24 hours of being picked? That’s fast! Now think about how long it takes a lot of produce to travel to your grocery store. Buying local allows you to select a product that’s packed with nutritional value.
Freshly picked produce, such as apples or kale, contain high amounts of vitamins C, E, A and B, nutrients we need to stay healthy and full of energy. In addition, these farm-fresh goods are free from exposure to artificial lights and temperature changes that can decrease nutritional value during transport from a farm to grocery shelves. Locally produced fruits and vegetables are also free of added chemicals that keep produce “fresh” during transportation and then beyond to stay looking fresh in the store.
Farmers often grow heirloom produce, meaning their seeds haven’t been cross-pollinated with other plants. This gives consumers access to a wider variety of colorful fruits and vegetables with antioxidants and phytonutrients that fight disease. This also exposes consumers to new fruits and vegetables that they may not otherwise try.
3. You’re practicing sustainability.
Food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it ends up on your plate. Agribusinesses use a great amount of natural resources to transport food, including the fossil fuels emitted in transport, extra packaging, and agricultural-preservation products that can be toxic to the earth’s soil. By relying more on local farms, you are eating food that has traveled a shorter distance, thus supporting more eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices.
When it comes to minimizing your carbon footprint, there are many ways that a commitment to your local farm and organic growing processes can help! Small local farms tend to use certified-organic practices that reduce the amount of pesticides and chemicals that pollute soil and water. Many farms also minimize the amount of waste and pollution with on-site composting.
A farmers’ market is also a great place to pick up freshly cut flowers or plants, acting as natural air purifiers that can enhance your health and home.
4. You’re contributing to the greater health of your community by supporting farmers’ markets that provide low-income community residents access to nutritious foods.
Farmers’ markets are beneficial for all residents of a community, including those who live at or below the poverty level. SNAP, short for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a federal program that provides a stipend to low-income households for the purchase of food. Those who participate in SNAP can use this money at the farmers’ market to buy fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, fish, and baked goods! Using SNAP Benefits at the farmers’ market allows these households to stretch their dollars farther than what could be done at a local grocery store or bodega, which often mark up the price of fresh items to higher prices than those found at a farmers’ market.
Your personal contribution to the farmers’ market – shopping on a weekly basis to buy your favorite fruit, veggies, and local goods – helps keep the market running, which is not only beneficial for you, but also for those who may rely on the market as their only source of fresh, nutritious food. In neighborhoods that experience food apartheid – commonly called food deserts – fresh food is often much more expensive and harder to find than processed food. The availability of and accessibility to a local farmers’ market is incredibly important to improving the health of the entire community.
Local farming transforms our health and communities.
Our health, and the health of our environment, benefit from eating locally sourced foods and supporting sustainable farming practices. Farmers’ markets not only provide affordable and nutritious food, but give the community a space to connect around the importance and impact of our environment on our health. Food shopping at a farmers’ market is an interactive learning experiencethat everyone can take advantage of and benefit from. Connect with a local farmer today through our free downloadable Farmers’ Market Guide, where you’ll also find recipes from Institute for Integrative Nutrition graduates!