Farmers’ markets are a great way to join Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. My small city of Kelowna, British Columbia has the largest farmers’ market in the province. That is a tribute to Bob Callioux, the market manager who works tirelessly to make sure the integrity of the market is maintained and that something exciting is happening throughout the year. It is also a tribute to the Okanagan Valley’s small farms and to the growing number of consumers demanding high-quality, local food.
We can all support farmers’ markets. Here are five reasons to head to yours:
Supermarket produce sections look bountiful because of the mounds of colorful produce. Sadly, they represent a tiny and shrinking array of all the varieties of peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes that have disappeared from our farms.
Mother Nature does not appreciate monocropping and responds with things like decreasing yields, superweeds and nutrient-stripped soil. Buy from the growers who offer yellow carrots, purple potatoes and tiger-striped tomatoes. They are the keepers of biodiversity. Variety is what protects the food supply when drought, climate shifts, insects or torrential rains destroy crops.
Produce at your farmers’ market was picked that morning or the day before. It has not spent days in refrigerated trucks, warehouses and grocery bins. It was grown for local conditions, not for its ability to ripen at the same time, be shipped without damage for thousands of miles and meet exact size and color standards.
A 2009 study published in HortScience tracked the decline in nutrients in fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and U.K. The results were dismal. The nutritional content of our food has been on a steady downward trend for 50 years.
If you buy meat, cheese or eggs at the farmers’ market, you can meet the farmers and ask about their farming practices. Unlike the caged hens, sows kept in gestation pens, or cows fed grains that are a poor fit for their digestive system, the animals whose gifts are sold at the market were generally humanely treated by people who knew and respected them.
Food is the fuel our bodies need. Better quality food means better health.
Too much of the world’s best farm land is used for purposes that have nothing to do with producing food. We mine it, build cities on it and turn it into golf courses.
Even where we farm it, we often destroy soil fertility and poison waterways with practices that focus on profit instead of sustainability. Many of the small farms that supply farmers’ markets adhere to principles that value and care for the land, preserving it for future generations.
Unlike the anonymous suppliers of food on supermarket shelves, the farmers who grow for local markets are available to answer our questions. They are usually eager to talk about environmental issues in agriculture.
4. Food Security
The only community that is truly food secure is one that can grow its own food. Mangos in Alaska and pineapple in Maine are delicious additions to our diets. They also create trade opportunities.
What they don’t do is ensure our ability to feed ourselves in Alaska or Maine. If weather shifts, trade disruptions or expensive transportation make them unavailable, we still need to eat. Supporting and encouraging local agriculture is an insurance policy.
Farmers’ markets support local economies. Money spent there recirculates in the community many times over. That helps create community.
The markets are also gathering places, where you get to know the vendors and stop to chat with friends and neighbors who also shop there. Make weekly visits to a nearby farmers’ market, and you will feel part of community of like-minded people.
Tomorrow: The Myth of High-Priced Farmers’ Markets
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Photo credit: Cathryn Wellner