Before starting my job at a “health-supportive” culinary school, I didn’t really get the whole farmers market thing. Sure it’s cute to buy produce out in the open air like in some small French town, but it just seemed so pretentious. I saw the Greenmarket as a hoity-toity place where hipsters would languorously browse through organic kale and artisan breads, probably because they had nothing better to do.
I also assumed it would be expensive to buy farm-fresh vegetables – not to mention inconvenient. Why go through the trouble of finding a farmers market nearby when you could buy produce at a regular supermarket? And “Support your local farmer” was not a convincing argument for me. Who is he or she anyway? “Local food” was something I had heard about but didn’t get. I thought it was just a trend – like when pork belly completely took over the food scene a few years ago.
But now, having gotten an inadvertent education in food sourcing, I am a strong and proud believer in the farmers market. It’s pretty wild how much my views on food have changed in the last couple of months and I hope sharing this bit of my evolution will spark a curiously in you too.
It started pretty innocently. Since I work ten minutes from the Union Square Greenmarket (a huge gathering of local farmstands that sell produce four times a week), I started scoping it out on my lunch breaks. The first thing I learned was that farmers market produce is actually not more expensive than conventional. That’s because it comes from local farms (200 miles is the usually the cut-off point for being considered ‘local’), so it doesn’t have huge transportation costs associated with it – like produce from, say, South America or California. In fact, $20 easily buys enough produce to last Rene and me for a week.
There are some items – like berries, heirloom tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, for instance – that tend to be more expensive. The reason for this is high demand, coupled with the fact that their harvest period is relatively short and they’re also more labor-intensive to gather. Another important benefit of less travel time is it’s better for the planet – meaning less harmful gas emissions.
The second thing I realized was how much more delicious this stuff was. Conventional tomatoes taste like cardboard compared local summer tomatoes, and New York apples are so fragrant, they make your mouth water. Most fruits and vegetables naturally ripen on the vine and taste best soon after harvest (excluding bananas, avocados and some others). Conventional produce, grown thousands of miles away, is picked way before it’s ready, and it finishes ripening with the help of potentially harmful chemicals, on some truck while being driven across the country. Meaning, it never gets to properly ripen and reach its yummy potential. Studies have also shown that fruits and vegetables ripened on the vine are more nutritionally dense than their conventional counterparts.
Speaking of chemicals – conventional produce is often-times grown with genetically modified seeds (to repel parasites) as well as sprayed with harmful pesticides in the fields. Many of these pesticides have not been around long enough, nor studied enough, for us to know their exact effects, but their consumption has been linked to cancer and plenty of other health problems. The sad truth is there’s no way of knowing exactly what we’re eating unless we grow it ourselves. Most farmers who sell at farmers markets are passionate about their work and growing the best possible produce. Hence, they repel parasites using cleaner methods, sans chemical sprays. A great advantage to buying food directly from its grower is that you can ask them about their practices face to face.
Buying seasonal produce also encourages you to explore more cooking possibilities. Instead of buying the same set of items each time, you’re greeted with new options every couple of weeks, which prompts you to try cooking with new ingredients.
If you don’t have a farmers market nearby, you can subscribe to a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) share. Meaning, by paying a local farm a subscription fee, you get a generous delivery (or pick-up) of seasonal ingredients every week/month/etc. Aside from fruits and vegetables, CSA shares often include fruit jams, eggs and/or dairy. Click here to find a CSA near you.
The way I see it, fruits and vegetables are one of the major sources of all the vitamins and minerals we need as humans. By buying mass-produced food, we support huge corporations that make a massive profit through their businesses, who don’t care about how their food is grown or its nutritional quality. By buying from local farmers, we support those who dedicate their lives to growing exceptional, clean produce; knowing that alone is enough to sway my decision.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Share in the comments below!