10 Reasons to Spend Your Food Dollars at a Farmers Market

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This dailySpark guest blog post was written by a SparkPeople member whose healthy lifestyle is fueled by fresh food from her local farmers markets. Here, she shares tips on eating at a farmers market.

By Christina Certo (BANANAFISH711)

Embracing the bounty of the summer harvest season is a great way to help turn your weight-loss journey into a permanent healthy lifestyle. One excellent way to do this is by seeking out local farmers markets and roadside farm stands in your area.

Here are 10 reasons to buy produce from your local farmers market this season:

1. Connect with the community.

Visiting the local farmers market is a great way to explore the culture of your community. What vegetables or fruits are exceptionally well-adapted to the climate of your area? What types of animals are raised for food? Talking to the farmers can help you learn more about where you live and help give you a better understanding of how to choose the best products. It can also give you ideas as to what might grow well in your own garden at home.

2. Support family farmers.

A large portion of small family farms are in danger of shutting down due to competition from commercial agriculture. Many of these farms focus their efforts on sustainable practices, that is, farming methods that replenish nutrients in the soil naturally. Because of this, their yields are smaller but provide quality, nutrient-rich products that equal or exceed supermarket produce. Supporting local farmers means that profits stay in your community, thus helping other businesses in your area.

3. Be nice to the earth.

Take a look at the label or sticker next time you pick out some produce at the grocery store. Where is your food coming from? Florida? Chile? Transporting produce over hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles not only costs a great deal of money, but uses an extreme amount of fuel and other resources. Eating food grown closer to home, when possible, helps you lessen your carbon footprint.

4. Have good taste.

Taste! Suppose you buy some delicious looking (and oddly enormous) strawberries at your local grocery store. When you look at the label, you’ll most likely find that they’ve been shipped from California (which is fine, if you’re not on the other side of the country like I am!). Now consider just how early in their ripening period those strawberries had to be picked in order to make it all the way from California to your supermarket without rotting. Chances are, when you bite into a strawberry from the grocery store, you’ll see a lot of white on the inside. It never had a chance to finish ripening and you’ll never get a chance to experience its full delicious flavor. The strawberries at the farmers market were picked that morning or the previous day, meaning their flavor was allowed to ripen until the last possible moment before you ate it.

5. Get your vitamins from food.

The debate rages on as to whether vitamin supplements are as effective as the vitamins we get from our food, but fortunately you can worry a little bit less if you follow a simple rule: Buy what’s in season and buy it local. Nature purposely gives us signs like the bright red hue and alluring scent of a tomato to cue us that it is suitable for harvest. Eating a rainbow of produce will help you get a variety of vitamins and minerals, and experts agree that food is the No. 1 source of vitamins. (For more info on choosing a multivitamin supplement, read Dietitian Becky's informative article.

6. Expand your culinary horizons.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself poring over the vast array of greens at the local farmers market only to wonder, “Now what is THAT?” Not only does shopping at a farmers market provide an opportunity to start a dialogue with the producer about what it is and how to prepare it, it gives you and your family a chance to try something new (and maybe discover a new favorite)!

7. Spend time with your family.

Getting kids involved in the kitchen is one of the most successful ways to get them started early with healthy eating habits. Purchasing a variety of different, colorful produce together as a family is even better. Kids are far more likely to eat something that they’ve had a hand in choosing and preparing, especially if it's a dreaded green vegetable. Letting a child see and select a bunch of carrots as they actually appear in nature, (with their long, vibrant green fronds and not whittled into “baby carrots”) is also a wonderful way to teach them more about how food is grown and harvested.

8. Stretch your dollar.

It is really tempting to buy the value pack of chicken breasts on sale at the local supermarket for $2.99 a pound, but you might consider buying a whole chicken from a local farmer. The price per pound may be higher, but it can go a long way if you plan and prepare meals. For example, you might break down the chicken into parts, grill or broil them with your favorite herbs and spices, and then take a serving of the meat and some vegetables for lunch at work each day during the week. Or, roast the whole thing for dinner, and then use the leftover meat to make chicken salad and the leftover bones (along with other discards like the tops of carrots or excess herbs) to make chicken stock. Many people say that organic, cage-free meat tastes better, and if you want to eat "happy chickens," local is often the way to go.

9. Know your farmer, know your food.

The best way to find out what fruits and vegetables are in season is to ask farmers what their planned harvest schedules look like. Many farms put this information online, and it can be a really helpful in planning a food budget. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reputable producers will be proud of their food and eager to tell their customers about their farming practices. Some will even invite you to visit the farm and check it out for yourself, which can be a really fun day trip.

10. Sneak in some exercise!

Heading out for a morning at the farmers market is a perfect way to start the day--with fresh air and exercise. Bring a few reusable shopping bags or a basket to carry your purchases and get your muscles moving! If you can walk to your local market, even better, but if you do drive, park a little bit away from it and carry those groceries a few extra steps. You’ll feel great not only for supporting your local economy and buying fresh produce, but you’ll burn away some calories, too!

If you can’t find a farmers market in your area, don’t sweat it. You can still find locally produced products in many supermarkets. Some farms also offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and will deliver bags of in-season vegetables, fruits, honey, and sometimes grains and eggs to drop-off locations in the general area for a weekly or seasonal fee. If you don’t mind a drive to the country, some farms also hold “pick your own” seasons where customers can pick and buy their produce at the farm directly (another great activity if you have kids).
A list of these, along with some great ways to use your purchases can be found at www.pickyourown.org. To find CSA programs and farmers markets in your area, simply type “community supported agriculture and your city” into SparkPeople’s web search. You may also visit www.foodroutes.org and www.localharvest.org for listings. If you’re still having trouble, contact your state’s board of agriculture and tell them that you are interested in supporting local agriculture. They are generally happy to help you find reliable producers in your area.
(If you're interested in growing your own fruits and vegetables, be sure to check out SparkPeople's comprehensive Backyard Gardening guide!)

Stay fresh and stay local!

Christina Certo, a SparkPeople member since 2008, has lost more than 100 pounds and kept it off since starting her healthy living journey more than five years ago.

Do you shop at a farmers market? Why or why not? Which of these reasons is the most compelling to you?

Do you have an inspirational story you think we should include on the dailySpark? Do you have any essays on healthy living or stories about weight loss? Send them to editor@dailyspark.com. Include the subject line: From the Mouths of Members

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I would not miss my local farmer's market every Sat. morning. Supporting and getting to know the farmers, going to a regular community event, getting some great produce and cheese, and also....taking photos, and can't forget the exercise I get walking there! Report
lmbo, florida! i just had to chuckle, it's such a trek for us to get our florida produce...we just have to walk outside and pick it! i do get to the farmer's market and do pyo for things we don't actually grow ourselves, at our house in jacksonville, fl :) Report
I try and get my veggies at the growers market before going to the store.... a great way to spend your Saturday morning! Report
I love going to my local Farmers Market. I prefer my tomatoes from there even though they are 1.50 more per pound the flavor is worth it. We have such a variety in Northern CA. Right now is the start of aspargus season Yum. I wanted to try fennel they had it, bought it, roasted it, Yuck. At least I can say I tried it fresh. Great Blog Report
I love to go to Farmers Markets! Report
Farmers markets are great but I love gardening ..........I get fresh vegies and the exercise of keeping the garden going Report
I have raised my children and my brothers as well on fresh produce from the farmers market. There is no comparison with the fresh against the supermarket.
I will take fresh anyday along with the friendly greetings of the vendors. Report
I've been a couple times to uor farmers market. It only has Fruits and Vegetables, but they are nicer than the grocery store and half the price. Report
If the chicken ends up being sold as meat, there is no way in which it could be considered a "happy chicken". Dead does not equal happy in any circumstance.

(Even "cage free" usually means that they are crowded in wall-to-wall in a cement floored warehouse.) Report
I love the UK equivelent to Farmers Market and i save some £'ssssss Report
I love the farmers market but I noticed something odd the last time I was there--there was an unscrupulous 'farmer' dumping obviously bulk store bought items into homegrown looking containers. I realized then that some of the folks were not actually organically gardening!

It threw me for a loop!

I asked the guy about it and he admitted he'd bought the food wholesale from a national distributor. He didn't even know if the food was organic--even though the name of his little stall was M________ Organic Market.

So now these days, while I still shop farmers markets, I am a little skeptical of sellers... Report
We do a lot of shopping at the farmers market when in the area. The prices are much more reasonable and it helps support the farmers family. These people work very hard and need our support. Report
I love shopping at the local Farmer's Market. Fresh fruits and veggies, and I get some exercise in as well. Report
#2 and #10...I take the dogs and we walk about 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back. It's not a large farmer's market, but it's good for getting fresh veggies and some berries. There's also a lady who makes homemade, organic dog treats. The pups get some snacks and meet lots of friends. My only problem with our local FM is all the baked goods...it's hard to stay away from them and there are TONS! Report
I love the farmer's market in my area! It's every Saturday 8am-12pm from May through Thanksgiving!! They also have one farmer's market booth at the train station on Wednesday nights in the summer. It's great to pick up some last minute veggies for dinner that night! Report
Thanks for the article. Great information. What is the proper methods for washing fruits and vegetables othern than rinsing? No one ever talks about this. Report
We started going to the huge public market in Rochester, but found that a large portion of the vendors were not selling local produce. Since then, we've switched to smaller neighborhood markets and joined a Community Supported Agriculture program. I can't say enough about how much I enjoy belonging to a CSA prorgam. Not only do we get fresh, organic, local produce, but there's a real sense of community. It's food you feel good about! Report
I love to go to the Maitland Farmers Market at Lake Lily. (Sundays 10 to 2pm) The vendors have great quality products... If you visit the market you got to try the Strawberry Lemonade! It is the best!!! Report
We don't really have a farmers market where I live, but there are roadside fruit and vegetable stands that sell locally grown produce. The most compelling reasons for me to go out of my way to seek them out is because the flavor and nutrition is SO much better, and to support local farmers. So many of the family farms have been bought out by corporate farms. This is not good for the local economy, and it has translated into much more of our locally grown produce getting shipped out of state. It's become more and more scarce in the local grocery stores, and at much higher prices. It's kind of absurd to go to the store and buy California peaches, when Georgia is the peach state! Especially when it is at the height of the harvest season! Report
I love going to farmers markets--just wish there were some good ones around my area--since I got laid off, we decided to put in our own garden this year-we've always had a small one, but, it's quite larger this year Report
I am going to our local farmers market tomorrow, hoping for beautiful tomatoes for dinner: BLTs! Report
You are an inspiration! Loved your article. Salem, MA, (where I live), is into the second week of Thursday's Farmers Market. Nothing matches the taste of fresh picked produce. Report
I love shopping at the Farmers Market. There's one I usually go to near my job. We've had a fruit stand now for several months on the same street where I live. But, now I am so happy to say that a Farmers Market is finally coming to my neighborhood beginning July 11th. It will be here on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, but it's a start. Report
There are a few Markets near us. But, the best one for all my produce needs is open Wed. and Saturdays. For just about every step you've counted out so accurately, I would say that, all would apply in my decision making. Seen eating and cooking more healthier, and preparing over 90% of my own meals now. I find the value and quality of the farmers market, invaluable to me and my family. I current lost about 70 pounds in that last 6 months, and owe a good portion of it to the eating of more healthier, organic foods.

Great Post!
Thanks Report
Thanks for supporting the market movement! I just moved from Torrance, CA to Ann Arbor, MI - saying goodbye to my CA vendors was like saying goodbye to close friends. I look forward to meeting the MI vendors and establishing some good friendships there - I can't imagine shopping at a grocery store again, but I guess w/ the seasons being what they are here.... Report
Great info and you are spot on! We dont really have a daily farmers market here but we do have one on the weekends. I now know what I am doing Saturday! Thanks! Report
I love the fresh fruits and Veggies and trying different and new things. Report
Our local farmer's market is more of a craft fair - not too much produce. However there is a produce stand on the edge of town that I frequent every week. The produce isn't as pretty as the produce at the chain grocery stores, but it's half the price and tastier.
I noticed a second produce stand is opening in town. That tells me that people are looking for this type of service.
I shop at a local produce stand on occasion, boy when I do it makes it worth the money, fruits/veggies taste so much yummier that what you buy at the local grocery. Report
Yes weekly. We always pick up cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, until ours are ready to harvest, onions and tomatoes. Report
I have shopped at farmers markets in the past, but not often. In the big city, there is not much to choose from. Markets are very picked over and cost more than the grocery store (significantly more). They also have a lot of cooked and prepared foods instead of fresh ones, and feature things like handmade soaps and fresh cut flowers. That's nice, but it isn't food. It isn't worth the drive across town most of the time. Report
The prices are amazing! Last time I shopped in one, I came away with a bushel of peaches and several pounds of green peppers for only $5. The one disadvantage is that most of them will only take cash and I'm wary about having to carry my grocery budget with me in a crowded place.

We supplement the farmer's market finds with our own garden. I'm hoping eventually to be self sustaining. If there's enough left over, I may join them! Report
In the summer time we have a local farmer's market downtown. I'll have to check when it starts, but I love the fresh food and even at grocery stores, I buy local/Ontario foods to support our Farmers. "IF YOU ATE TODAY, THANK A FARMER." Report
The farmers markets by me are so much more expensive that it doesn't make up the difference for me. I love the roadside stands in the country though! Report
I love the farmer's markets near me! Aside from all the health and environmental reasons, shopping at a farmer's market is just fun. Report
I love shopping at farmers markets wish one was closer to where i live. There is nothing better then fresh vegetables. Report
My mom and sister in law own a farmers market together; which makes it so much easier to stop and pick up a few fresh items here and there! I know most of the places its grown! Report
I love farmers markets and missed them greatly when I lived in Las Vegas. I shop there because I can indulge my summertime desire to eat salad and make fresh salsa many times a day without going broke! Report
I love shopping at Farmer's Markets but was no happy when I found out many of the ones where I live have vegies shipped in from suppliers. Report
I love going to the local farmers market. I always get the freshest fruits and vegetables, and have the opportunity to speak with the people behind the scenes and really get to learn about the items I'm purchasing. Report
I love our local farmers market! Supporting our local farmers is a very tasty idea!! :) Report
I love Farmers Markets - I think you get the freshest of everything there, and the prices are generally pretty reasonable. as well. Report
I love going to our local farmers market. The fruit and vegetables are amazing. They are alway fresh and delicious tasting, and they look amazing. It is nice to support your local growers. Report
There are several farmers markets here in Albuquerque, not to mention the weekend flea market produce stands, so yes, I go at least once a week. The deals are so much better, you're getting fresher produce, the fruit is awesome, and you're helping the local economy in the process. This year, I will also be reaping the fruit of my labor in my backyard garden (first one in over 30 years!) so I'm excited about having MY butternuts, zucchini, tomatoes and pumpkins to eat and figure out recipes for. Joy oh joy! Report
My wife (YARNBALL3) and I are members of both a vegetable and a fruit CSA. We get a great assortment of vegetables. We have discovered we like some things very much that we had never really eaten. Tonight will be a mixture of beet greens and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. Quick and easy and very good. Tomorrow will be fresh peas. Report
Our local farmer's market is pretty small and quite a drive for me. But I bought some peaches last year there and they were AMAZING. I have absolutely no desire to buy the rocks they call peaches at the grocery store anymore. I don't have the motivation to go more often unfortunately. It's not very convenient since they are only open a couple days a week and not for the whole day. Report
Our local farmer's market opens one week from today and I can hardly wait! I like the freshness of the food, trying new things I can't find at the grocery store, and especially supporting the local farmers in the community. Report
I like the farmers markets as the fruit is really fresh, and less expensive. Report
I like the farmers markets as the fruit is really fresh, and less expensive. Report
I find the produce is sweeter - fruit and tomatoes. You find more organic at cheaper than the stores. I just like browsing through to see whose looks the best and who is cheapest. I used to shop for myself and my parents who were really into fresh foods. I still get hugs from some of the vendors who became friends. Some came to the funerals (I told one family who knew mine) - something you don't normally get and wouldn't get from a store even shopping there daily. It's not just shopping once you're known, it's socializing and networking. Report
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