We packed up our cloth shopping bags this morning and headed to our local farmer's market. Even though it's early in the growing season around here and not all the farmers were there to sell their wares, just wandering up and down the booths was a delight for all senses. The fragrance of fresh basil, beauty of red, green and blue produce, the feel of a perfectly ripe, firm blueberry, the taste of that first luscious strawberry picked this morning---all amid the happy strings of a fiddler and the busy buzz of shoppers.
Every fruit and vegetable at the farmer's market is picked at peak ripeness. This means peak flavor and peak nutritional value. The strawberries that I bought in the grocery store last week were good, but the berries we bought today were grown in the town right next to ours and are absolutely amazing. Juicy. Sweet. Wonderfully delicious. Since they were picked this morning, they are also richer in nutrients. Most produce we buy at grocery stores are picked greener so they can travel better. This means fewer nutrients have developed at that point. After that, with each day that that goes by some nutrient value is lost. The air, water from the sprinklers, and light all diminish different nutrients. Don't get me wrong. I still want you to eat your fruits and veggies. We still get lots of good healthy things in our fresh produce, just not as many as if we ate them fresh from the garden.
Organic farmers are a staple at most markets allowing good options for those of us who wish to have fewer chemicals in our food. Most farmers are practicing sustainable agricultural methods which help preserve rich farm lands.
Another thing to consider is the fossil fuel necessary to transport produce to us. If we buy things locally grown, far less fuel is necessary to get the food to us than when California strawberries are shipped to the mid west. Shopping at your local farmer's market supports local farmers, which helps to strengthen your local economy. This also eliminates the middleman, so our money goes straight to the farmers.
One drawback is availability and variety. If I want an item that is out-of-season or produce that are not grown in our area, like bananas, I am out of luck at the market. We just need to accept that. The trick is to flow with what's in season.
The best plan is to wander through the farmer's market once a week. Pick up only what you'll eat for the coming week. Plan your meals around these wonderfully fresh foods. Then, make your grocery list to fill in what you need to buy at the grocery store to make those meals happen. This gives you the best of both worlds.
Your homework for the week? Go to the farmer's market and say "Yes!" to the fresh produce...as you're walking away from that crowded kettle corn booth!