Ah, summer! Time for trips to the pool, the park and – don’t forget – your local farmers’ market. If you care about small businesses – as I do – then it’s time to support one of the most important types of small businesses in America – the small, local, responsible farmer.
I love farmers’ markets. Always have. Long before the current trend toward shopping at farmers or growers’ markets, I was visiting them wherever I travelled. Perhaps it’s because, although I grew up in Los Angeles where fresh fruits and vegetables are available all year, my Ohio-born mother bought virtually all her produce in the frozen or canned food aisles. It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered asparagus, artichokes, avocados – and a myriad of fruits and vegetables that started with letters other than “A.” What a revelation!
And then I discovered how good and how different food from the farmers’ market tasted. It took a couple of decades before I ate a “real” tomato – not a supermarket tomato that had been engineered for thick skin for mechanical picking and gassed to turn red, but a tomato grown for taste, picked when ripe and sold soon after picking. Tomatoes are now my favorite food – even beating out chocolate!
Here are just a few reasons to support your local farmers market:
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Expand your kids’ palates
Kids love farmers markets. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning (or whatever day your farmers market is held) and it helps them expand their palates. It’s easier for a child to eat their vegetables when they’ve met “Farmer Nick” who handed them the snap pea himself. It’s so much fun to see kids try the many different varieties of peaches and try to decide which one they like best.
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Farmers markets save family farms
While farmers and growers markets are a way for you to obtain the tastiest, freshest, best produce, they’re also the best way for you to support small American farmers. Many, if not most, “local” farms (the definition depends on the individual market-but is often within 100 miles) are owned by one family that has farmed for generation. They struggle from year-to-year, but farmers markets have been a lifeline.
I’ve spoken to many farmers and they tell of almost going out of business before they started selling direct to consumers at farmers markets. When they only sold wholesale to supermarkets and brokers, not only did they get far less per pound for their produce, but they had to throw out much of the food they grew.
Wholesale buyers only want food of specific sizes without any blemishes. You may be perfectly happy buying a three-inch zucchini or “cosmetically challenged” tomatoes (that’s what I buy to make tomato sauce), but the buyer for Kroger or Safeway probably isn’t.
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Farmers markets fight climate change
You not only reduce waste, but help reduce climate change in another way when you shop at a farmers market. Typically, the food at your supermarket or big box store has gone from a farm to a warehouse to a distribution center to a specific store. It’s traveled lots of miles. Food at your farmers market has come straight from the farm. It’s not only days fresher (the lettuce I buy at my farmers market often lasts two weeks!), it’s used up fewer resources to reach your plate.
Many small farms grow organic produce, but even those that are not organic are often more environmentally friendly than big agribusiness. That’s because the small farms at farmers markets generally plant a variety of crops and rotate fields, which requires less pesticide than planting acres and acres of one crop.
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Subscribe and save a farmer from having to take out bank loans
Paul Muller, one of the owners of Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California, told me that their CSA program enabled them to avoid having to get bank loans at the beginning of each year, because they knew how much cash they would be receiving each month.
The bottom line
Don’t get me wrong: large corporate farms have helped bring down the cost of food and that’s a vital contribution. Americans pay far less for food than people in most developed countries.
But without small farms, we all lose. We lose the best, freshest produce. We lose a great variety of fruits and vegetables. We contribute more to climate change. We lose a fun day out with the family or friends. Over time, we lose farms and farmers. And those are small businesses. So if you love small business, shop at your local farmers markets.