I love a good farmers market. I love turning a city corner and seeing tables and tents set up, piled high with produce, breads, pastas, fruits, and meat. I can spend hours looking through the offerings, making rounds before purchasing, always leaving with a new artisanal cheese, a chicken, or a basket of vegetables. Often, I just leave with the ingredients I’ll need for dinner.
Having spent so many years living in the Bay Area, where farmers markets are as ubiquitous as coffee shops, I grew accustomed to doing my weekly shopping there. They occurred each day of the week on random, closed-down streets throughout town, making it easy to stop by on your way home. In my neighborhood, it was Thursday afternoons or Saturday mornings where you’d see your friends, get a coffee from the cart, have a freshly baked tart, and plan your week’s meals by what the farmers were offering. I have even purchased knitting wool alongside tomatoes and kale from Northern California’s Full Belly Farm.
The convenience of having a market in your neighborhood not only increased the likelihood of you eating season-appropriate foods, but foods grown nearby (your “foodshed”), and grown by your neighbors, therefore invigorating your local economy. The same can be said for those creating art, crafts, and selling wares; this is a micro economy where your money has an especially high value.
This is not a new idea; farmers have been selling their bounty at markets for as long as abundance spurred trade. But since we’ve designed our food system to make the supermarket seem like the ideal place to buy all that you need, farmers markets fell out of favor, therefore making farming a less likely pursuit. This reinforced the grocery chain system, assuring that only the biggest farms with the greatest output would survive. But there’s a better option. By supporting farmers markets, we take back a small-scale food system, specific to our region.
It is only within the last few decades that farmers markets have experienced a resurgence in number. The USDA reports that the number of markets in the US has more than tripled since 1994 (http://www.celsias.com/article/data-shows-explosive-recent-growth-us-farmers-mark/). The increase can only mean that young people are starting to take up farming as a career and are making the most of reaching their customers at such markets, and that the public is desirous of having such access to the people who grow their food. [See The Greenhorns documentary to fully appreciate this newest generation of farmers.]
I support farmers markets for the economic benefit of cutting out shipping, fuel, and middlemen costs, choosing instead to give full price directly to the farmer. I also support them because it creates community and dialogue between producers and consumers, something that is lost when food travels from far away to reach your grocery store. But mostly I support farmers markets for their romantic quality.
I know this sounds funny. Buying produce is not romantic in a loving, relationship kind of way, but it does introduce a new level of connection to your food. When you smell a peach from Frog Hollow Farm or Russell Orchards, in the height of peach season, it is the sweetest and most mouthwatering aroma one could experience. I choose each fruit for their perfect coloring, smell, size, and degree of ripeness. This is the epitome of a peach. It was picked hours earlier and handled with the utmost care. There were no big machines involved, no sprays, pesticides or fertilizers, no big-rig trucks and no fluorescent lights above my head in a nameless grocery chain (where the fruit sold is often picked unripe, weeks before sale). This peach, picked oftentimes by the person standing in front of me, stayed on the tree until the last minute, storing as much sweetness and nutritive value as possible. The riper the fruit from the tree, the better the fruit will be. [Now if that’s not a T-shirt in the making, I don’t know what is.]
When you learn to appreciate the value of knowing your farmers, of eating food that’s in season, and of the freshness of a food that hasn’t traveled, you don’t want to accept anything else. The pleasure you get from knowing your bread man, your coffee girl, the tomato, apple, and lettuce farmers, changes your shopping and eating experience. You become connected, playing a much more active role in not only your own eating habits, but the community you have chosen as your home. The grocery store’s supposed convenience suddenly doesn’t seem so worthwhile anymore. You can also get everything you need from these markets: milk, cheese, vegetables, fruit, meat and eggs. And the hour you’ll spend collecting the fish you’ll eat for dinner (that has never been frozen and is from local waters) and the tomatoes that practically leaped off the vine with readiness and flavor, will be the hour your savor most.