As a farmer that sells and shops at various farmer’s markets, here’s my inside scoop as to why your local farmer’s market offers you so much more than your neighborhood supermarket.
1. The produce is the freshest you can buy and reduces the carbon footprint. Typically, farmers harvest their produce the day before and usually drive less than 150 miles to get to market. A supermarket’s produce could be weeks old and traveled several hundreds of miles across state lines.
2. You will find sustainably harvested fish, organically-fed and pasture-raised meat, poultry and eggs–all of which are humanely raised. Chickens free to shake their tail feathers and scratch in green grass make eggs that taste like it–there is a difference. Pasture-raised poultry, lamb, pigs, and beef means happier animals and more Vitamin D from the sunlight they received through their skin (along with high amounts of Omega-3 from foraging in the pasture). Happy animals frolicking out in the sun with a quality food source equals healthier protein for you, too.
3. Farmers always know what has the “peak of flavor” that week.
When you’re choosing your produce at a farmer’s market, ask questions about what you’re buying–you’ll probably even find the farmer working the booth. You’ll learn that the artichokes and greens are sweeter because of the cold snap, or the walnuts were just freshly harvested making them the tastiest and richest in oil content. Samples are also always in good supply–an opportunity for the family taste test before deciding what apple variety is more crisp or tart and best suited for that pie you had in mind. You will never get this kind of hands-on information at a supermarket.
4. Heirloom vegetable varieties and unique fruits are disappearing in the mainstream marketplace can only be found at the farmers market.
Local, smaller farms tend to grow fruits and veggies for their distinct flavor, not for how well they can be shipped long distances. For example: Chandler strawberries, with their tender skin, have floral undertones of tropical banana. Cosmic purple carrots have a high antioxidant profile due to their dark pigment, San Marzano Roma tomatoes are the meatiest and best for sauce, and bacon avocados are sweet and you can eat their tender skin. These are somewhat obscure varieties that you’re not going to find at a big chain market.
5. Supporting the farmer’s market helps to keep family farms in business. Buying directly from farmers puts 100 percent of the money directly in their hands instead of just a fraction they receive when they sell wholesale. When you buy a $2 bunch of kale at the grocery store, the farmer is probably only receiving seventy-five cents for that bunch. And they still need to pay for the box, cooling charges, employees, and commission to the wholesaler on top of it. Committing a small portion of your grocery bill to the farmers at the market will help the farmers keep planting.
6. Get to know the farmers that feed you.
Going to a Certified Farmer’s Market (this seal of approval is important–look for it) assures you that the farmers at the market actually grow the produce and are not resellers. Farmers love to meet the people that eat the food they grow, and they live to share recipes and preparation tips. Some of the best recipes will come from the farmers because they eat the food they grow–they know how to get the best out of their crops.
Farmers are interesting characters with lots of great stories to share; it probably stems from spending a lot of time with plants and animals. So bring your kids, ask questions and learn more about how your food is grown.
All photos: Jamie Collins at one of her farmer’s market booths (except #2, Getty Images)
Jamie Collins is the owner of Serendipity Farms and has been farming organic row crops at the mouth of Carmel Valley since 2001. She’s also an organic farm and process inspector for California Certified Organic Farmers.