Aside from taking in the visual delight of a rainbow of produce, from neon Romanesco broccoli to jewel-toned beets, local farmers markets give you the unique opportunity to meet the individuals who plant, harvest, and sell the foods you take home to enjoy.
To learn more about the benefits of shopping locally at farmers markets, we spoke with Kim Denkhaus, a registered dietician and owner of Farm Haus Nutrition. From better taste to more trust, there are some real perks to stocking your fridge with farmers market finds.
Boost taste and nutrient intake
Not only is this fare more delicious than what you might purchase at your typical grocery store, it’s also more nutritious. “Farmers markets provide access to the freshest seasonal produce, and eating seasonally enhances the flavor profile as well as the antioxidant capacity of fruits and vegetables,” says Denkhaus.
She explains this is because farmers market produce is grown with less fertilizer and pesticides, is picked at an optimal, peak time in the season, and doesn’t have to travel far. Produce begins losing nutrients when it’s picked from the tree, vine, or ground. By purchasing locally-produced rather than store-bought produce, you can reduce the overall time from farm to table. Meaning, you’ve got a higher likelihood of reaping as many health benefits as possible.
Additionally, locally-grown food doesn’t go through the preservation processes required for long-distance shipping or warehouse storage. Atmosphere regulation, which uses gaseous compounds or varying levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, is one popular method used for grocery store produce to keep it fresh or delay ripening. While this practice is considered safe and legal, you’re not getting the freshest food possible.
“Savor a bite from a freshly-picked peach from the farmers market,” says Denkhaus. “There is a difference — your taste buds and body will thank you.”
Diversify your diet and improve your cooking skills
If you’re like us, it’s easy to get stuck in a grocery rut and grab the same bunch of bananas and bag of cauliflower rice each week. While we’re all for healthy staples, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the many vitamins and minerals to support your health. At the farmers market, you’ll have access to a rainbow of unusual, nutrient-packed produce you and your cart likely won’t stumble across at a grocery store.
Love a simple sweet potato? Give delicata squash a go. Who knows — using exotic dragon fruit instead of raspberries or pomegranate may take your smoothie to the next level.
Plus, learning to cook new foods will expand your cooking skills and give you a chance to get creative. Now, we’re not suggesting you replicate an episode of Chopped in your kitchen (but hey — you do you). Rather, if you’re skilled at preparing carrots, why not experiment with turnips?
Reduce your carbon footprint
“Buying local reduces your carbon footprint by decreasing pollution from transportation and excess trash from packaging,” says Denkhaus.
Since the food doesn’t have to travel too far, less harmful emissions are released into the air during transportation. You’re also less likely to come across plastic cartons of blueberries or pre-packaged bags of mixed greens at the farmers market, especially when compared to your grocery store. Though some stands may offer bagging options, bring a reusable grocery bag to keep the environment as green as the farmers market kale.
Promote the ethical treatment of animals
The New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan once wrote, “You are what you eat eats!”
According to Denkhaus, he’s right. “Getting to know thy farmer is especially important for meat, dairy, and egg eaters,” she says. “Shopping at your local farmers market helps promote the humane treatment of animals, raised without hormones, antibiotics, or genetically-modified feed. Look for farmers with products that are free-range and 100 percent grass-fed.”
The USDA states that “free-range” indicates the animals were given unlimited access to food and water and had continuous access to the outdoors. “Grass-fed” means the animal has been fed grass and other natural food sources like hay or legumes, rather than grain feed. Grain feed often includes corn, soy, or other animal byproducts that may not be as healthy for the animals’ and our health.
A sense of community
There’s something undeniably special about knowing the name of the woman who raises the hens responsible for your weekend scrambled eggs, or the man who grows the radishes you add to your salad. Denkhaus says, “Talk to the local farmers. Connecting with the people responsible for growing your food will make each bite taste a little sweeter.”
A healthy diet is one of the primary drivers of longevity and well-being. Getting to know the individuals responsible for growing your food can give you peace of mind and confidence. The farmers market is a rare opportunity for a local community to gather in the sames space to support and nourish all aspects of each other’s health, from physical, to emotional, to financial.