Monday, July 6, 2009

The Importance of Farmers Markets

It's no secret on this blog that I go to the farmers' market nearly every weekend, and shop at the local CSA otherwise. I'm a big fan of locally grown food - it tastes great and is so fresh! I've had chain-grocery produce and CSA produce in my fridge at the same time (asparagus), and the CSA stuff literally lasted a week longer than the store bought! Anyway, that's not the point of this post...

Some fresh, locally grown Bing cherries purchased at the farmers market this weekend

Recently my city has been discussing the importance of farmers' markets to the community as a whole, particularly in light of some actions by the Washington State Department of Revenue. Basically, an official at the DoR decided that since the farmers' markets are on church parking lots in this area, the church parking lots cannot be classified with the rest of the church and must pay taxes on the land. The full details can be read in this article written by the local paper. So the churches have to pay the tax or shut their markets. Isn't that ridiculous?

All of this has got me thinking about why I support farmers' markets and locally grown food. I know a lot of my readers feel the same way that I do, but in case there are some that don't frequent CSAs or farmers markets, here's why I do.
  1. Economic benefit to me and my community. Doing a direct price comparison of organic produce at the chain grocery to the organic product at the farmers' market has shown me that my farmers' market produce is always equal to, but more often than not less than, the price of produce at the chain store. And that money is going directly to support the person who is growing my food, and staying in my community!
  2. It's delicious. Seriously. Matt and a friend that was in town this weekend bought some fish (how cool is it that my farmers' market is close enough to the Pacific and Alaska to have fresh fish???) and honestly exclaimed that they'd never had better. We've seriously spoiled ourselves with the caliber of spinach, asparagus, squash, and apples that we've gotten through the market and CSAs.
  3. Connection to food and agricultural education. There's so much to learn from each and every grower. Growing methods, use of (or lack of) chemicals, harvesting methods, any processing that goes into readying the food for market, and just general life experience: all are there to be learned from the growers by consumers, kids, and other curious parties. It's a learning experience! And, because the farmers markets in Washington accept government food assistance programs, this education is available to everyone - not just those with the luxury of paying for local organic food.
  4. There's so much more than just food! One of the most common misconceptions that I've encountered is that there's only veggies and fruits at the farmers' market. NOT TRUE. There's meat, fish, flowers, honey products, local wool and other cloth-type materials, and various community organizations that set up booths and make themselves available to the public during farmers market days. And CSAs tend to be well connected with all these entities as well. And, perhaps my favorite part of the farmers market - sprouts! Many vendors sell seedlings that they've sprouted at the farmers market so that you can begin your own garden, and provide important tips on how to be a successful gardener.
I could go on and on about the benefits of locally grown organic food and why I shop at farmers markets, but I think a lot of you do this already and I certainly don't want to preach to the choir! For more information, I highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (or any of his other books, really). Also check out for information on local farmers markets, CSAs and fruit stands.

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