You might not know it, but this week (August 5 through August 11) is National Farmers Market Week, officially designated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to encourage consumers to visit their local farmers’ market.
To kick off National Farmers’ Market Week, the USDA announced that the number of farmers’ markets in the United States increased by 170 percent since 2000. There are now over 7,800 markets listed in the USDA directory, while there were just over 2,800 in 2000.
This growth makes it clear that people are increasingly supporting locally grown food and farmers. Farmers’ markets are one of the easiest ways to not only support and encourage locally grown fruits and vegetables, but to support the economic viability of our farmers.
This economic support is critical in keeping our small farmers farming and in improving local communities. For me, it is the number one reason to shop at your local farmer’s market.
Aside from the economic importance of shopping at one, there are some other great reasons that allow you as a consumer to benefit by shopping at a farmers’ market.
First among these is the control you have over what you eat. Unlike the supermarket or big box store that have products with confusing labels or no labels, there is somebody to ask, often the grower himself or herself. If you want to know how and where something is grown, or if you aren’t sure what that interesting veggie is or what to do with it, you can find out and make an informed decision about whether you want to eat it or not.
Another great benefit is that you have more choice about what you eat. You can find dozens of different fruit and vegetable varieties of one single item at a single farmers’ market, instead of the two or three varieties typically found at most grocery stores.
While many people often believe that farmers’ markets are more expensive, you can actually save money by eating seasonally. You can also save by doing comparison shopping between stands, checking for price and selection.
A benefit that I often write about is that, unless you grow it yourself, you are getting the freshest, tastiest produce around. There is nothing that compares with that first bite of the season’s first plum, sweet corn, or vine-ripened tomato.
If you aren’t a regular farmers’ market shopper but are thinking you’d like to be, the USDA has a page where you can search for the market nearest you. It even lets you search by product, lets you know what payment types each market accepts, and has a list of winter markets.