There are many ways to shop for food in America. From high-end grocery stores to discount bargain stores, shoppers will find a different experience, and most likely a different price tag, at each. A place that many Americans don’t often consider for food shopping is their local farmers’ market. It may seem strange to go shopping outdoors and buy directly from the people who grew your vegetables, but it’s actually a pretty neat experience!
How Many Americans Use Local Farmers’ Markets?
The Local People
Research shows that roughly 12% of Americans shop at farmer’s markets regularly, and that number is growing. Farmer’s markets have quickly grown in popularity over the past few years, and that trend does not seem to be slowing down. Many people have a desire to go back to their roots and for life to be simple again. Farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage.
When people shop at a farmer’s market, they see the person who grew their food. There is something about seeing the face of the seller that makes you feel good about your purchase. For older buyers, they feel like things are the same as they were back when they were young, and they enjoy reflecting on their childhood. There is mutual appreciation and a bond between buyer and seller.
The Unique Culture
Farmers’ markets have their own culture. If you visit a farmer’s market, you will notice that it is a more artistic, more relaxed crowd than the people who are bleary-eyed from an 8-5 job, grabbing a frozen pizza and a box of soda after work, rushing to get home. People like to go and browse and feel the experience. You’ll see baggy overalls, colorful crop-tops with baggy pants, and mothers and their children enjoying the fresh air.
Many people who choose to shop at farmer’s markets have made a conscious choice to shop for their food there. They shop locally, support the growers and the makers, and eat healthy in the process. Going to the Saturday morning farmer’s market, carrying their food in paper bags or handwoven baskets, and then going for a bike ride or a jog are all part of a regular weekend for them. For them, it’s a lifestyle.
The Community Connection
Since farmer’s market shopping has its own culture, it’s a great way to build community. Many older market-goers love to visit with their neighbors as they shop, using the opportunity to get out and see and talk to people that they don’t see except during their weekly market visit. Sometimes smaller vendors share a booth, and that is a great way to build community.
There is a sense of pride in buying and selling in your own community. It makes everyone feel like a part of something. Farmers’ markets can be a big part of helping a community grow and develop and stay strong as they support each other.
The Local Support
With all the big box stores taking over the food market, it’s nice to support the small, family-owned businesses. Many of the sellers at farmer’s markets make a living off of their farms or their crafts. When you buy from them, you are directly supporting your local economy, helping it thrive. Buying from individuals helps them stay in your town and they in turn will help your town’s economy by buying their farming supplies and the things they need.
When you shop from a small business or a farmer, you are directly supporting their family. Every purchase you make helps put food in the mouths of their children. What you don’t see is the happy dance they do when they get home, having sold all of their corn, and finally have enough to pay for their car repairs or medical bills that month. We would much rather shop locally than add our money to the billions that corporations have.
The Fresh Produce
Another reason people like going to farmer’s markets is that the produce sold there is much fresher than the produce in stores. When you see ripe strawberries in the store, they were probably picked weeks earlier, before they ever had a chance to ripen on the plant. They are picked green for shipping and then sprayed with chemicals to make them ripen quickly in time to be displayed. Picking produce so early gives it an inferior, often mealy taste.
In contrast, farmers’ markets often offer food picked just hours before, a fresher product that is crisper, crunchier, brighter, and so much juicier than anything you will get at the grocery store. Not only does it taste better, but the fresh ripe local produce also offers many more nutrients than the produce that is chemically ripened. Let’s be honest, once you’ve tasted fresh, right off the tree, sun-ripened peach, you can never go back to storebought.
The Health Benefits
The health benefits of shopping from a farmer’s market are perhaps the biggest reason that people choose to shop at the farmer’s market instead of a grocery store. Most farmer’s markets have rules about quality, and also require that what is sold be locally grown. Small local farms are less likely to use commercial chemicals to spray their crops, as they simply don’t have as much to farm, and also care more about what they put on their produce.
Produce is often heavily sprayed with pesticides on commercial farms, especially soft fruits, because there are just so many fields and orchards that there is no other way to control pests. These pesticides can cause cancer, developmental issues, infertility, and many other issues. Small businesses and local farmers often choose to grow their food organically, forgoing the use of these horrible pesticides and offering a much healthier product.
The Environmental Support
Not only are all those pesticides and fertilization chemicals bad for humans, but they are also bad for the environment. Bugs and birds and all animals need healthily operating eco-systems to survive, and the chemicals commercial farms use often destroy those natural ecosystems. Suddenly their environments are filled with chemicals that make it impossible to survive, and the bees can no longer pollinate the plants to make produce grow.
Have you ever seen an individual banana wrapped in plastic? That creates a lot of waste. Shopping locally also means that we don’t have to leave as much of a carbon footprint. The produce just has to travel a short distance to get to the market. We don’t have to use large trucks, travel across America, use tons of fuel, pollute the atmosphere, and use tons of plastic packaging to move the product without damaging it.
The Shopping Experience
Going to a farmer’s market can be a lot of fun. Parents with small children can enjoy getting out of the house and into the beautiful outdoors while their children exclaim over the colorful produce and art. People strolling by on a walk with their dogs might swing by to see what this week’s market has to offer. The market can be a fun social outing for a group of friends to spend time together while getting their shopping done.
Some farmer’s markets have small events or demonstrations for children to see or be a part of. Visiting a farmer’s market when kids are out of school can be a great family activity. Time spent outdoors together doing something fun is not quickly forgotten. Sometimes there are food trucks or snow-cone vendors to make the day all the more memorable. Many markets have free samples which can be tasty for everyone, and help tempt you to buy delicious goodies.
The Seasonal Availability
Shopping seasonally can actually save money, as produce that is ripe and available in that season does not cost as much, since it has not had to be imported or forced to ripen out of season. It can be a fun challenge for those who love to cook to only use produce that is currently in season. Being an on-demand culture makes it fun to just slow down a bit and use what is naturally available in that season.
There are so many great reasons to shop at your local farmer’s market. In a country of processed food, it can be hard to find food that is truly fresh. At our restaurant, we enjoy sourcing our foods straight from farms and farmer’s markets. It’s truly a farm-to-table experience. So if you’re out for some Saturday morning farmer’s market shopping, be sure to stop by Town’s End Stillhouse & Grill for fresh and tasty lunch!