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 love shopping at the Farmers Market in Minneapolis but I do not get there as often as I'd like. Thanks for the blog as a reminder! Report
Yes, I shop at a Farmer's Market. I don't get there as much as I'd like to though.
I have to be at work at 7:30 a.m. and that is the same time it opens up in the twon square. Report
We grow a lot of our own produce, but what we don't we do get from local farmers and sometimes we trade what we have with others growing gardens for some of what we have it is fun. We have gotten to know lots of people and we all share our knowledge. Report
I am sad to say I don't. The prices are literally 3 times as much as the grocery store. I can see paying more, but 3 times as much is just out of my budget. :-( Report
Love the farmers market. When I'm visiting Hawaii, my sister and I check it out and try some really unusual food items, a little adventure. I also grow my own...very limited in suburban Chicago, however love the taste and it's just good for the soul! Report
Where I live the farmers' markets are quite seasonal - generally June through October. I love getting up before dawn on a Saturday morning, grabbing myself a great cup of coffee and heading to a farmers' market to shop.

Word of caution: not all farmers' markets require that the products sold there be local, so unless you know that the one you're attending requires that produce grown outside your state be labelled accordingly, you should always ask. Last weekend I went to a newly organized farmers' market and none of the produce being sold there came from Missouri. I bought some Arkansas-grown tomatoes and blueberries and some peaches and plums from Georgia, but the rest of what they had to offer was grown in Mexico or California. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

I also visit the local pick-your-own farms occassionally, although around here about the only items you can pick are fruits (strawberries in May, peaches in August or September, apples and pumpkins in September to October).

I have my own veggie and herb gardens, too. Also, one of our local grocery chains here in metro St. Louis area features in-season local produce from the bi-state area (Missouri and Illinois) - including the yummiest cantaloupes and bi-color corn I have ever tasted!

I try to grow and/or buy enough local fresh produce in season that I can freeze or can enough to get us through until the next spring. I mostly freeze the veggies, but my freezer space is limited. I also make pickles, relishes, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, preserves and pie fillings. Home-canned or frozen may not be quite like fresh, but they are still WAY ahead of store-bought in terms of flavor and nutrition. Report
This is our second year in a local CSA and I love it. We buy one share and have produce from June - October. We do this to support local farming and because the produce tastes so much better. Report
I love summer produce! I keep meaning to visit some of the farmers markets here. Report
Many thanks to those of you who have commented and left such kind compliments both here and on my blog! A couple of notes based on what I'm seeing here...

-In places with short growing seasons, it may be wise to invest in some vacuum seal bags (ziploc makes a reasonably priced version). My boyfriend isn't a big vegetable eater, so I find that those come in handy a lot. Simply clean, peel, and blanch the vegetables, cool them quickly in an ice bath, pat dry, and freeze in portion-size bags. This is also a good thing to do if you want to save some of those goodies for long winter nights.

-If you're feeling really motivated, get a canning book and a water bath canner. I recommend the Ball Book of Canning for beginners as it has a lot of great tips and easy recipes to try out. It also provides extensive information on how to can safely and how long certain canned foods maintain freshness. I was shocked the first time I canned tomatoes at how pure the flavor remained in glass canning jars as opposed to the slight metallic taste that sometimes occurs with aluminum cans.

-Someone mentioned checking local health food stores. This is a really smart idea. I often find locally smoked turkey breasts and other neat things at the organic market near my office.

-One final resource that I should mention for those who might still be having trouble finding their local producers is to contact the local chapter of Slow Food USA. Their mission is all about supporting food that is "good, clean, and fair."

I am overwhelmed by what a wonderful response this post has gotten. Thank you all again for reading.
I love our farmer's market. I also am a farmer's daughter, and live on our farm, so I get fresh fruit right out my door! Report
I love shopping at a local farm. They sell the produce right out of the fields, practically. Asparagus this spring was so incredibly fresh it hardly resembled the stuff from the grocer. Report
I can't wait to see the wild bouquets of flowers and get them. Also the fresh cibatta bread from a local bakery. Report
YES! and living in CA - we have small stands with locally grown and organic fruits and veggies - love it! Report
I love shopping at farm markets. I live in a small agricultural area so grew up with them as a option. Will be moving soon and hope to find great ones in my new home. Not sure I could shop without them. ;-) Report
I actually work at a Farmers Market. I sell my homemade jams and jellies as well as surplus produce from the garden. Report
If the Farmer's Market wasn't about 25 miles from my house I would definitely be shopping there. Whenever I visit my daughter in Monterey CA, my favorite thing to do is hit up the Farmers Markets there during the week. Such delicious, fresh food! I love it. Report
Yes, I shop at a Farmer's Market. It is open on our town Common from June through September, and has the most wonderful foods! I do have to be careful about whom I buy from; some of the vendors who set up their tables are RE-selling foods that could not possibly be grown locally. I recommend that people find out where the foods are grown. Some of the vendors come to our (Massachusetts) town all the way from Connecticut, which, for me, is still considered "local." Report
Amen!! We shop the Farmer's Market until our garden starts producing. We try to buy most if not all of our produce from the local Farmers as much as we can. It helps everyone involved. I don't like waxy fruit and veggies!!

Long live the farmer!! Report
I like the idea of putting money back into our own community.....especially in these hard economic times. If we help the farmer those dollars that they earn go back in the community and ultimately help all of us. Also the food is s-o-o-o fresh!! Report
I love going to the farmers market. I look forward to it starting every spring and am sad when it ends in the fall. I am lucky though because I just found out that there is another one during the week. So now I can go on Tuesday's and Saturday's. Report
All of your reasons are "RightOn" - 2 in paticular resonate with me - supporting your local farmers/community & the extra food value freshness of the produce - Great job spreading the word on Farmers Markets! Report
Great article. I love our local public market. We are fortunate that it is open all year. We get great products, great ptices and have met some wonderful people. Report
Excellent points all! I am especially partial to #s 1 and 2, particularly over the last ten years; I'm getting sick of conglomerates taking over everything. I extend this rationale to everything: eating out (family-owned restaurants), home repairs etc. (family-run hardware stores and local contractors), and so on.

Thanks for posting! Report
I love getting the FRESH stuff. On Saturday morning we have a guest cook. He takes veggies from the local growers and cooks them up to taste so amazing! All are welcomed to taste. He also gives out the recipe.
I love farmer's markets---But I rarely visit them. I have two farms down my road that sell produce and a farm down the other way that sells rabbit meat, eggs, and chicken meat. So between those, and my own organic garden, I never have to go far to get fresh stuff :) Report
My employer runs a farmer's market on Thursdays. I stop by and pick up a few things on my way home from work. On Saturday after WW I go to the main market downtown and stock up. In just a couple of visits, I'm quickly getting to know the people who bring beef and lamb well. And one of the larger farm stands. It's been great to talk to people who know *exactly* where the produce comes from.

"These purple heart tomatoes came from Springfield. The bradleys are from Ashland City." And so on. "And the patty pan squash is an old variety. It's the kind of squash your grandma would have grown and used. It's really creamy on the inside."

Information like that makes me want to try it. And since I can buy just one or two (as opposed to some stores where I have to buy large bags) less goes to waste since I buy just enough for me. Report
The local farmers market starts this Saturday here - can't wait! Report
Christina, you're not only very beautiful - wow, what a transformation! - but you're an excellent writer and steward of the earth as well! Thanks for your wise advice and good thoughts...I'll be shopping at our farmers' markets more often! Report
I am in my 3rd CSA this year; this one is brand new and I hope it not only survives but thrives because I really enjoy CSAs. They are expensive upfront, but a good one provides us/you with a wonderful variety of incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables (sometimes unbleached chickens or soap or goat meat) throughout the summer. It's fun and funny to figure out what things are if they haven't been on our radar screen previously. New tastes, looks, smells. This year I have received so far an incredible rainbow of swiss chard and beautiful radishes (one called watermelon - it's white outside and pink inside) among other things. The CSA owner is looking forward to giving us purple carrots which are again beautiful inside and outside (if the rabbits don't win). If you can afford the upfront costs and want to diversify your diet, it's a great way to go. Report
Madison has a great farmer's market. I go every week during the summer! Report
I'm there every weekend - March to November. There are several farmer's markets close by, so that makes it easy. Also, I have a craft booth at one of them. Report
I have a huge garden so I have most of the fresh veggies I need. The closest market is 16 miles away. Report
I have always enjoyed shopping markets from roadside stands to full farmers' markets. Since I work full time, I look forward to the weekend where I can choose among 5 markets! I am also planning to resurrect my garden next year!!! and hope to get some new ideas from the locals.
I also have to watch how much I buy... everything looks soooo good!!!, thanks for the mentioning the Ziplock produce bags, LIVNFITHAPPY.
Kath Report
I love shopping fresh at the farmer's market. I am priviledged to live in a community that has a farmers market almost everyday of the week in different locations. There are two that run every Weds and three that run on Saturdays. It is great to get fresh produce and the walk around the market is a great way to fit in some exercise and I usually go with a friend so it also gives a nice time to share with friends. One of our markets continues in the winter months at a senior center and they sell a fabulous breakfast made by local chefs with all local ingredients-well except for the coffee but it is fair trade-just do not grow coffee in the midwest
like this article and I love the Farmers Market Report
I go to my local farmers market every weekend for fresh produce. I also like to shop at Whole Foods where I can buy from many local growers. I know everything is fresh and I am support my community. Report
Nothing like Farm Fresh Food! Report
I have been buying at my local farmer's market for at least 15 years. You get to know the venders and how much knowledge they give you on every day life. My favorite vender guides me as to what to buy. He says this one is at the peak, this item is not up to your standards. Last week, I was picking our corn to roast and he took it out of my hand saying no. Not good enough. This peach is more flavorable than this one. This tomatoe is better and more tastey. I appreciate this and I have found in my dealings with local produce farmers that I not only save big bucks, I eat healthier and again enjoy the real taste of fruits and veggies. We have a great relationship to the point that he knows what we really like and I am on his phone list. When he gets in my specials he calls to see if I want him to save for me and to make sure I am coming by his stand. Report
I buy at a local HEALTH FOOD STORE where they carry locally grown produce, and even meat that is locally raised. Report
I shop at the farmer's market quite often...the produce and eggs I am able to get from there taste SO MUCH better than anything I've gotten in the store -- and by store I mean an organic co-op!! I am able to bike to both of the ones in my area - one Saturday & one Sunday. The higher prices are worth it, because I don't have to drive anywhere and I get to know the farmers first hand and support organic farming directly instead of through a store. We also have a great vendor for organic plants - I'm growing some eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and herbs in my backyard thanks to that vendor. Report
Our town has a farmer's market on Tuesdays and Fridays from May to October. The produce is so much better than what is in the stores, and usually cheaper too. I've also bought some nice plants and flowers for my yard from the farmer's market. Report
Thanks for sharing - good information. You look GREAT!! Congratulations on your weight loss. I typically will stop at a stand that is nearby, but their offerings are pretty slim. I've occasionally stopped at the folks selling from their station wagons or small trucks. After reading this I will make an effort to find a farmer's market - I think the commute is what has held me back!! Report
Great post!! The link for the "Backyard Gardening guide" at the end of the post is linking to an article titled: Get Street-Wise About Supplements. Report
When we're on vacation, we love to stop at roadside stands. Fresh corn on the cob in Yakima, apples in Wenatchee...good stuff. And fresh-pressed cider is incredible. It's a fun way to learn about the area we're traveling in. Report
I have but not lately and would like to get back into the stream of visiting our local farmer's market. Report
Farmers market produce is the next best thing to growing your own, and offers a lot more variety than my small vegetable garden. Congratulations on your commitment to healthier living. You're a real inspiration! Report
How wonderful you look!
I too shop locally here in Ga. We actually have a group called "Locally Grown" that consists of many farmers in our area that supply pretty much anything in season. From veggies to meat to chicken to honey and even hand made candles and crafts. You order on their site and order what you want tand then go pick it up that same week. I feel it is very economical and like you, love that it is from people that live in the same vicintity as I do. I feel I am helping them stay in business. There is nothing better than preparing a meal with fresh produce you know has not been trucked in from who knows where and sprayed with who knows what!
Thanks for sharing - I saw a few ideas I will take with me and use. Report
Great article and how good you look! Very inspiring! :) Report
I love my local farmer's market! I can't wait for the fresh tomatoes to come in this summer --- and the sweet corn --- and the watermelons --- and the ... I love it all! Report
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