This is National Farmers Market Week and it’s the perfect time to celebrate the exploding resurgence of these ancient institutions.
It’s like a weekly holiday when the local farmers market rolls around in your neighborhood. If you don’t know what we are talking about then you haven’t been to one in a while. Farmers Markets are more than just a place to get your weekly fruits and veggies. It is a place to socialize, especially with the farmers and their helpers who grow the food.
August 5-11 is National Farmers Market Week and there couldn’t be a better time to visit one. This may be the most bountiful time of the year for the cornucopia that the Northern Hemisphere produces in the height of summer. Fruits and veggies of every variety abound and the flavor and quality is at its best.
It’s a little more work to make the trek to a farmers market each week to get your fresh produce, but the payoffs and benefits are definitely worth it. The freshness of the items for sale there puts most grocery store stock to shame. Variety is another great benefit. Unusual and heirloom varieties abound. Many of these versions of your favorite fruits and veggies are usually much superior in taste than the varieties that make it to the supermarket shelves. That’s because the varieties that the bigger retailers sell are bred to have better shelf life since they must withstand bumpy roads and fluctuating temperatures during their long journey from the field to the store. Fresh produce in supermarkets travels an average of 1200 miles to reach its destination and can take up to two weeks to get there from the original source. Those varieties also have to be harvested before peak ripeness for the same reasons. That translates into less flavor and texture and sometimes less shelf life once you get it home.
Most farmers markets require the suppliers to be within a specified range of miles to sell in the markets. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, 85% of fresh produce at markets in the U.S. is grown within 50 miles of the respective market and about 50% has less than a 10-mile journey.
But farmers markets are not perfect. The cost per pound for the high quality found there is usually greater. Devotees to the markets think the higher price is well worth it, but for someone on a tight budget, it is difficult to shop there when the grocery stores have similar fruits and veggies at much lower cost. And it is better that you get more fresh produce in your diet rather than always opting for higher quality. But according to the Farmers Market Coalition, on average the same quality produce you would find at a farmers market is more costly at the grocery store. You just won’t find the lesser quality and less expensive varieties as often at farmers markets.
Close to 200,000 farms across the U.S. sell almost $10 billion dollars worth of fresh produce each year at farmers markets. And the farmers who frequent them keep a much higher percentage of each dollar they take in. Estimates say as high as 90 cents for each George Washington portrait they are given.
Farmers markets are, of course, as old as agriculture and civilization itself. As far as we know, there were no supermarkets for farmers to ship their fruits and veggies off to thousands of years ago. They had to be brought to the closest town or village and traded for other goods and wares. But with the advances in technology and transportation in the 20th Century, they almost disappeared as the big grocery stores dominated the supply chain and large agricultural farms flexed their muscle.
But over the last couple of decades, the massive trend to buy local and organic has infused a resurgence of them. Farmers markets are gaining popularity by leaps and bounds each year. Sales in them increased by well over 25% in the last decade. And the jobs generated by that increase is approaching 100,000 people each year.
People in California and Florida could find it easy to take their farmers markets for granted as they abound year round. But in other parts of the country, the summer and fall is the peak time and all their bounty will be gone with the cold weather. So get out now and discover the wonderful taste and variety your local farmers have to offer.