Eight Great Buys at Your Local Farmers’ Market
It’s that time of year again when local farmers markets are in full swing, offering you and your community the cream of the crop, from homemade canned salsa to organic dog treats. As anyone knows who’s ever sampled some of the fare offered there, everything simply tastes fresher and better. Taste alone, though, does not justify the need to support your local farmers market. Whether you’re shopping there to support the local economy, to nourish yourself with chemical-free and nutrient rich foods, or to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, the following are eight great buys you cannot afford to pass up this season. Trust me: your taste buds and conscience will thank you later.
Ranging in color from soft yellow to fiery sunset, peaches are a seasonal treat best eaten during late summer. It’s best to buy them in season, as peaches don’t hold up too well during transport. Purchasing them from your local farmers market is better than from a commercial grocery store, because you can rest assured in the knowledge that your peaches are pesticide free. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Shoppers Guide to Produce, these succulent beauties are more pesticide-ridden than any another other fruit. If in doubt about your peaches, simply ask your vendor before making a purchase.
As anyone knows, asparagus tastes best when plucked fresh from a garden, rather than out of a can. For those of us desiring asparagus in its natural state, we need look no further than our local farmers market. The asparagus provided there is local and organic, unlike most asparagus found in the grocery store. Over the past ten years or so, asparagus imports from the country of Peru have made massive gains and currently account for just over 50 percent of all asparagus consumption in the United States. The USDA requires all Peruvian shipments of this stalky vegetable to be treated with the pesticide methyl bromide; this neurotoxic chemical is believed to cause cancer. In addition, methyl bromide shortens the shelf-life of asparagus, thus depleting the vegetable of its unique flavor before it even hits the shelf.
If you’ve ever compared the difference between a store-bought tomato and a garden-fresh one, you know there’s a world of difference. If given the opportunity to choose either one, would you succumb to the slightly sour, mealy one, when a fiesta of flavor and juiciness is just within reach? The closer the tomato is to you, the better it is. Two-thirds of all American-grown tomatoes are supplied by the states of Florida and California. In Florida, tomato farmers use five times as much fungicide and six times as much pesticide as Californian farmers do. In addition, slavery of illegal immigrants on tomato farms in Florida proves to be problematic.
If onions make tend to make your eyes water, then this news will simply make you cry. For the past several years, domestic onion growth has been steadily decreasing. Ever since U.S. trade restrictions with Peru were loosened, onion imports have gone up, thus chopping the price by which domestic farmers can sell their onions for by half. What’s worse, the onion farmers in that region treat their crops with methamidophos, a pesticide which has been linked to sperm damage in those farmers.
Want to support your local economy? Be very berry. Due to their temperamental growing season and relatively short shelf-life, berries are often shipped as air freight from farm to distribution center. Flying in from as far as Canada, Mexico, South America, and Poland, berry imports contribute to the most fossil-fuel-consuming form of food shipment there is. Food & Water Watch states that the U.S. imports $220 million worth of strawberries each year, while only selling $1.5 million worth of their own grown berries.
Grocery store carrots tend to be bland in taste, bland in color, and bland in nutrient value. Farmers Market stock, however, tends to offer carrots in a variety of colors and with enough flavor to satisfy your palate. According to a study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, colorful carrots tend to have more antioxidants, such as purple ones. Not only are locally grown carrots better for your health, they also help reduce our carbon footprint. Sixty percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions related to carrot production stems from the energy necessary to transport carrots over long distances or to simply store them when they are out of season.
7. Grass-fed Beef and Dairy
When it comes to the ethics of buying local, animal and dairy products have taken the forefront. Supermarket beef, chicken, and dairy products do not allow you the opportunity to know where your food came from, how it was raised, processed, and shipped, or what is even all in it. Did you know that purely grass-fed animals produce 8 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 30 percent lower ammonia levels than animals raised solely on corn and in confinement? If you didn’t, you should hit up your local farmers market. There, you can ask your local farmer just exactly what went into his/her livestock’s diet, as the term “grass-fed” is not always reliable or well regulated.
8. Anything Organic
It’s not necessarily where your food is grown that’s nearly as important as to how it was grown. Although you may bask in that feel-good, environmentally savvy localvore smugness whenever you stroll through the farmers market with a cloth-woven tote bag in hand, you need to know a few things about the products offered there before purchasing them. Were their apples sprayed to keep worms at bay? Was the cow that their milk came from ever injected with antibiotics? Did they practice sustainability? According to one study, conducted by a pair of Cornell University agricultural researchers, 11 percent of all food’s environmental impact is derived from food miles, in comparison to the 83 percent that comes from how it was grown, specifically when it’s grown with the pesticides and greenhouse-gas-intensive fertilizers used on chemical farms.