If you're regularly buying groceries and preparing your own meals already, congratulations! You're already well ahead of the curve and most likely a lot healthier than the fast-food eating, microwaveable meal munching majority. Most shoppers prefer to purchase their groceries from the nearby supermarket because it is seen as more accessible and convenient. If this is your preferred method, then I would like to issue a challenge to you, because you have no idea just how much you are missing by skipping your local farmer’s market. Find out when and where your nearest farmer's market is taking place (here's a good place to start) and mark it on your calendar. This is a weekly habit that will benefit you and your community. Offering a healthy and fun social experience with unique benefits, shopping in the farmer's market is more than just buying what you need for the week.
A Healthier Choice For You and The Environment
It's no secret that fruits and vegetables sold through grocery chains are mass produced utilizing large amounts of pesticides, waxes, and other chemicals to keep them "fresh" and aesthetically appealing to potential buyers. Many of these giant, mutant freaks of nature have been genetically modified, which may be a strong deterrent for many health-conscious individuals. (As a rule of thumb, I try to avoid GMO foods when possible. However, I do believe there are potential applications for genetic modification to be used for the greater good. Example: feeding millions of hungry people with plants that require less water is good. Conversely, giving plants the ability to survive and soak up pesticides is bad. I digress, that's a whole other topic...) Sellers at farmer markets, however, are typically offering produce made by "organic" means, which gives you better, healthier choices. Many grocery stores are now offering organic options as well, but this is generally the minority and you have to be weary of deceptive marketing from some brands who would have you believe their food is healthier. These large organic brands also lack many of the other benefits that farmers' produce offers, which I will cover below. At the farmer's market, you can almost never go wrong.
Furthermore, the vast amount of resources used in conventional agriculture is not doing our environment any favors. Enormous amounts of water are needed (and much of it wasted) and soil is being stripped of its nutrients over many years of use and lack of bio-diversity in these huge monocultural fields. Also, pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional agriculture generate significant amounts of toxins polluting the air, land, and bodies of water which ultimately affects surrounding plants, animals, and people. Supporting your local farmers can do a great deal to improve your health, but you can also feel good because you're doing your part to improve the health of the planet we all share.
As Fresh As It Gets
A lot of the products at the farmer's market are picked on that very day after ripening naturally. This means that you will be taking home the freshest ingredients possible to make the most delicious meals ever. It's not unusual for supermarket produce to come from far-flung areas, stored in crates, gassed to simulate the ripening process, and preserved so that they still look good upon reaching their destination. This process can take away from the taste and nutrient density of these foods. There is also a significant environmental impact - the energy use and emissions - caused by this long-distance shipping. Imagine all the trucks, cargo ships, etc. it takes to get that (out of season) produce to you.
Speaking of being out of season, it's a modern marvel that we have the option of eating strawberries year round, but it isn't exactly natural. By shopping at a farmer's market, you're buying food that is naturally in-season near you and naturally ripened with its flavor, vitamins, and minerals intact. There are also a growing number of nutritionists that believe we should be eating according to the seasons, much like our ancestors would have. At the very least, this will help align your body with the natural cycle of the seasons in your area and add more variety to your diet, tastebuds, and routine.
Go Ahead and Be Tempted
When you pace the aisles of the supermarket, you're surrounded by bright colors, fancy packaging, and attention-grabbing marketing. The sheer volume of processed snacks, preserved "foods", sugary beverages, and artificial everything is ridiculous. Unless you have a great shopping list and iron will, good luck avoiding all these temptations. Conversely, you will have a hard time finding anything even remotely processed or artificial at a farmer's market. Even the sweetest jams (almost always home-made from fresh, organic fruits) and other treats are significantly less detrimental to your health than the packaged junk at the store. If you change your surroundings, you can change your behaviors, which can change your habits. Good habits make reaching your goals exponentially easier. So go crazy at the farmer's market and give in to your temptations there.
A typical Farmer’s Market can cover a significant area of a park, street, or wherever it's set up - each corner teeming with booths selling ripe, colorful, and fresh food products. The beauty here is that not only do you get to compare one booth to another, deciding between Bob's or Jose's avocados, but you are also free (even encouraged) to ask questions. How are they grown? When were they harvested? What are the best ways to consume the fruits/vegetables being sold? How long until they are at peak ripeness? How long until it spoils? Should I refrigerate this? Do you have any cooking or recipe suggestions? Farmers are more than happy to answer questions, socialize with the people in the market, and oftentimes even give out samples (take that Costco).
Let's not forget that you have access to more than just fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market. Typically there is everything from flowers to home-made soaps, fresh pies and jams made by the growers of the fruit contained within, nuts and local raw honey, and much more. One of my favorite things to get at the farmer's market is a carton of eggs from happy chickens that roam free, eat their natural diet, and live healthy lives. Many farmer's markets have ranchers that raise and sell grass-fed beef, buffalo, and other delicious cuts of meat. The benefits of eating grass-fed meat over the industrial stuff could take up an entire article by itself. Furthermore, it promotes the humane treatment of animals when you purchase from farmers who practice these methods.
It Won't Break the Bank
Many people are hesitant to shop at the farmer's market because they believe it's much more expensive than their grocery store. Now, I will admit that buying a hundred eggs from Costco may save you a few bucks (if you can eat them all before they spoil), and there may be certain food items that make sense to buy this way. But it may surprise you how affordable most of the products at the farmer's markets are, especially considering the premium quality and all the other benefits mentioned. The fact that the produce and other goods are being sold directly from the farmer to the buyer eliminates the middle man. This means that you can actually get these higher quality products at a cheaper price, especially if you buy from them in bulk. I'm definitely not one to haggle on prices, but I have witnessed people negotiate down prices on certain items as well (good luck doing that to your grocery store cashier). It's also certainly less expensive eating a plate full of goodness from the farmer's market than going out to eat, even for something of lesser quality. Thinking long-term, these healthier food options are also likely going to save you money on preventable medical expenses in the future.
Also, let's not forget the contribution you are making to society with this simple switch in how you shop. The farmer’s market is typically composed of sellers from your community who grow their own products and rely largely on the sales for their living and supporting their families. You will be helping the local economy extensively by choosing to purchase directly from these sellers instead of choosing grocery store chains and the large corporations that stock their shelves.
Exercise and Fun In the Sun
The Farmer’s Market is like a weekly food festival with free entry. Many of them even have live music and street performers. It's the perfect place to visit with a group of friends, your significant other, or even by yourself to meet other like-minded individuals. Every farmer's market I've been to is very welcoming to dogs, so bring your furry best friend to get him or her in on the action as well. From my experience, people at the farmer’s markets are very friendly and social and will have no problem sharing tips in choosing the best products or just chatting it up.
One of the best things about spending part of your day at the farmer's market is that without realizing it, you will be spending some quality time outdoors getting fresh air and sunlight. It’s a great form of exercise as well, giving you the chance to relax, decompress, and burn some calories in a fun and productive way. It's an excellent way to unwind from the week before while preparing your kitchen and pantry for the week ahead. So if having fun, being healthy, social, and economically and environmentally conscious are your thing, then making the weekly trip to your local farmer's market is a habit you'll want to implement to upgrade multiple aspects of your life.
Need help choosing the best items to take home from the farmer's market? Sign up for the AlphaNerd newsletter and we'll send you a free grocery shopping guide that will help take your health to the next level! And of course, no Spam (literally and figuratively)!