Boost Your Local Economy - And Other Reasons To Love The Farmers Market

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It’s been perfect summer weather here in Southern Wisconsin. We’ve had some cool mornings (typically 60F / 15C) and nice summer temps in the afternoons (80F / 27C). I just *have* to get outside when the weather is this perfect, and one great way to enjoy the outdoors is at the farmers market.

Walking down the street of a farmers market

I live in Beloit, Wisconsin, where we’re fortunate to have a fantastic farmers market. It’s the second-largest in the state (Wisconsin’s state capital Madison has the largest market) and is visited weekly by about 10,000 people. https://visitbeloit.com/farmers-market/

There are so many reasons to love farmers markets, but here are my top five.

 

Five reasons to love farmers markets

1. Positive economic impact

Farmers working a booth at the farmers market

When I shop at my farmers market rather than at the grocery store, I’m supporting small business owners and making a significant contribution to my local economy.

My dollars spent at the market contribute to my local community and even to local job creation. In a 2016 study done through the University of California, Davis, researchers found that “for every dollar of sales, Sacramento Region direct marketers are generating twice as much economic activity within the region, as compared to producers who are not involved in direct marketing.” They went on to say, “that for every $1 million of output they produce, the direct marketers are generating a total of 31.8 jobs within the Sacramento Region, while producers not engaged in direct marketing only generate 10.5 jobs.” http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/files/238053.pdf

In other words, when I purchase from the market, I help grow my local community. Furthermore, my farmers market is located downtown, right next to a variety of local shops. When I visit the market, I often also stop in at the locally-owned cafe or visit the local bike shop - more ways that my dollars support small businesses.

 

2. Community connections

Mushroom Pulled Pork - Image copyright Live Eat Learn. Click image to view original recipe.

Mushroom Pulled Pork - Image copyright Live Eat Learn. Click image to view original recipe.

I love shopping the market and seeing the same vendors each week. I go back to the same stands over and over, confident that my purchase will be delicious and high-quality. I also like developing a rapport with my local farmers and getting to know more about their products. Last year, I learned about king oyster mushrooms from a vendor, and I used my purchase to make vegan BBQ pulled “pork” sandwiches - no kidding! https://www.liveeatlearn.com/mushroom-pulled-pork/

I also enjoy the other community connections that can be made at the market. I often run into friends or colleagues, so it’s a great chance to catch up. I also get exposed to local music, since our farmers market hosts a different local musician each week, ranging from jazz bands to flute players to cover bands.

 

3. Reduce carbon footprint

Farmers market booth, filled with produce and flowers

Agriculture’s impact on our planet is undeniably huge, and the ways in which we farm makes a significant difference. There’s a lot that plays into our specific carbon footprint, including the type of food we consume, how it was produced, where it came from, and how far it was transported.

We can help to lower our carbon footprint when we purchase foods at the farmers market, because we know that these foods were produced and transported locally. Of course, there are still a lot of variables at play, and this article from the Worldwatch Institute breaks down some of the more complex nuances when it comes to local foods: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6064 But overall, I think it’s safe to conclude that when I buy zucchini grown in a local Wisconsin farmer’s field, my carbon impact is much lower than when I go to the grocery store and buy zucchini shipped in from Mexico.

When we look at transportation alone, farmers market are the clear carbon footprint winner. According to the Farmers Market Coalition: “More than 85% of farmers market vendors traveled fewer than 50 miles to sell at a farmers markets. In fact, more than half of farmers traveled less than 10 miles to their market, according to the USDA.” https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/qanda/

 

4. More connected to the seasons

Kale + Red Cabbage Slaw - Image copyright Simple Veganista. Click image to view original recipe.

Kale + Red Cabbage Slaw - Image copyright Simple Veganista. Click image to view original recipe.

At my farmers market, the summer starts with rhubarb and strawberries, which I use to make a compote, like this one from Garden Fresh Foodie. http://www.gardenfreshfoodie.com/healthy-desserts/strawberry-rhubarb-compote/

Before long, the market is flooded with tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. And with vegetables this good, you gotta make some of your own tomato sauce, like this sauce from Sharon Palmer. https://sharonpalmer.com/2015-09-07-heirloom-tomato-eggplant-pasta-sauce/

The Beloit market ends in October with fantastic salad ingredients like kale, cabbage, and carrots. This fall, I’m looking forward to trying this flavorful-looking recipe from Simple Veganista. https://simple-veganista.com/kale-red-cabbage-slaw

The farmers market affords me the opportunity to try local, seasonal flavors. What’s offered there is a much more authentic connection to the seasons than what you can find at the grocery store.

 

5. High-quality, flavorful foods

Farmers market variety.jpg

The produce from the market also tends to be minimally processed and very high in quality. The choices are fresher and more diverse than what’s at the grocery store. Food from the market could have easily been harvested several hours prior to your purchase - not weeks.

Additionally, if you’ve ever purchased produce from the farmers market, then you know that these foods are often more flavorful than those you find at the grocery store. What ends up on grocery store shelves has been carefully bred or modified and then picked over and processed to look perfect. In doing so, much of the nuanced flavor is lost. (Likewise, our diversity and uniqueness as humans makes us that much better. Don’t force yourself into someone else’s mold; be your authentic self!)

 

No farmers market nearby?

A variety of fresh produce in and surrounding a basket on a countertop

If you don’t have a farmers market near you, why not start one? This guide from the University of Florida focuses on the specifics for those living in th U.S. but the pricincipes can be applied elsewhere. https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/agriculture/starting-a-farmers-market/

If starting a farmers market isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are other options for you, such as visiting roadside stands or a local co-op, or by getting involved with a program like Food is Free (http://foodisfreeproject.org/) or a CSA (https://www.localharvest.org/csa/). You can also try growing your own garden in your yard - or even an indoor herb garden!

 

Closing

Jarred salsa and pickles on a table at the farmers market

Farmers markets offer amazing produce, but that’s not all they offer. Depending on the market you visit, you may find jewelry, purses and bags, jellies and jams, essential oils, woodwork, and more. The offerings are virtually endless, and there’s always something new to be found at the market.

Now it’s your turn - what are your reasons to love farmers markets that you’d add to my list?

From my table to yours,
Kara

 
 
 

Hi There!

My name is Kara, and I’m here to help you prepare plants in a way you’ll LOVE.

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