Have you ever wondered what's so great about buying local food, at a farmers market or elsewhere?
One of the things I love about farmers markets is that they give you a practical way to eat seasonally. You are not going to find apples in April, or summer squash in September.
This is not a bad thing. Our bodies weren't necessarily designed to eat bananas every week, or uninspiring apples (imported from halfway around the world) every day at lunch.
As Solomon once put it so well,
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for having access to a wide variety of foods. However, when you are able to buy fresh, juicy red tomatoes in summer, they just beat the tasteless greenhouse ones from Mexico in December all hollow. The Cleveland Clinic agrees. In their article "Healthy Food, Season by Season" they write:
This is also a good argument for having your own garden, but if you're like me and short on space (hello, container garden on the patio), it can be downright impossible. What are other ways to invite fresh, local food into your life? Well, obviously the farmers market (please click here for a nation-wide directory), but you might not have a good farmers market in your area, or one at all (these areas are often called "food deserts"). Or you might work nights or weekends, or just not be a morning person, and getting to the market on Saturdays at 9 AM would take an Act of God.
In that case, please check out Local Harvest to see if there's a CSA (short for "Community Supported Agriculture") in your area. I've been a member of several CSAs over the past few years, and they're okay, although you get less choice overall (in terms of the produce you get), and you have to pay up-front for your share of farm produce. Good to know: a CSA share can result in a whole lot of one or more crops, such as Swiss chard or okra, that you're like, "Okay, what do I do with this?" If you're going to sign up for a CSA, get the deets on what you're paying for first, and also ask what crops the farmer plans to grow that season, which can help ward off surprises and misunderstandings. Pick-ups for your CSA share can be at a variety of locations and times, such as right on the farm, at their stand at the farmers market, or at a centrally-located "drop point" such as a natural foods store.
Unless you are lucky enough to live in a bounteous farming community, it can be downright difficult to locate fresh produce (especially organically-grown produce, unless you live on the West Coast), and it can take what feels like an ungodly amount of time and effort. And have you noticed that there is no air conditioning at the farmers market? Here in the South, that can be a real problem for the heat-intolerant (such as myself). The trick: go early. Go very early. Wear a hat, and bring water.
On top of these challenges, which I have no doubt you can and will surmount, the local produce at the farmers market is sometimes more expensive per pound than what you'd pay at your neighborhood grocery store.
Why, might you ask, is that?
I really don't know. I would like to ask my local farmers, and get their take, since they are far more familiar with the field than I am (no pun intended).
As far as I can tell, though, the price disparity is mostly because local farmers can't possibly compete with the bargain-basement prices of agro-industrial complexes. They don't set the prices at (or higher) than the grocery store so they can get insanely rich off the rest of us...farming pretty much never made anybody any money. However, small-scale farmers, much like the rest of us, do enjoy having electricity and running water and house payments and all those pesky things that cost money and show up as monthly bills. I imagine they like to eat, too.
Here are two of the many factors that may help explain why huge, so-called "agribusiness" farms can charge less for their products:
- Some agribusiness farms operate in locations outside of the US, often with no regard for the well-being of their workers (even reportedly utilizing child laborers). Your local farmer is operating within the US (well, you knew that), and is hopefully treating their employees very well, since that's typically themselves, their families, and friends and neighbors in their farming communities.
- Agribusiness farms may exploit undocumented immigrants as farm laborers here in the US. I sincerely hope that your small, local farmer is not being exploitative, and many farms offer farm tours during the summer and fall months, so you can go snoop around and see for yourself if you're worried. This is transparency at its finest, if you don't mind tromping around the fields and getting a little dirty.
Hold it. Did you click on any of the three blue links above? No? Please take a minute to read the Los Angeles Times' searing five-part exposé, Product of Mexico (2014). It's actually pretty cool, with videos, maps, tons of photos, and well-documented studies from credible sources. I learned a lot by reading this, most of it stuff I'd rather not know, frankly. I'm sure none of us wants to be part of an exploitative system, but much like the issues with the garment factory system, what are we supposed to do with the information we gather from investigative journalism? It's up to each one of us, individually, to decide.
I'm still working on my personal answer to this question, but hey, do you really wanna be on the wrong side of history, here? Me neither. I'd rather pay more for my produce and spend my weekends getting out there supporting my local community. I despise exploitation, cruelty, and all the rest, and I'm sure you do too.
Together, we can make a difference in our communities, and put more seasonal, nutrient-rich foods in our bodies while we're at it. Win-win!