Farmers' Markets: A Better Way to Eat Local and Healthy
If the results of a most jarring recent survey about obesity
rates in America -- particularly among Baby Boomers -- soaring way
past epidemic proportions was the final broken straw that scared you
straight toward better eating habits, congratulations for making the
decision to choose better health over immediate convenience, nourishment
over expedience and short, sweaty trips to the gym over longer hospital
Still, some of you may be resisting change because you're concerned
this transition, especially at the dinner table, may cost more than
an arm and a leg. So, where do you start?
With some smart planning and shopping, you can begin to improve your
health and save some money right away with a trip to your local
farmers' market, one of the oldest forms of direct marketing used
by small farmers around the globe to connect with neighboring consumers.
Although they vary in size and quality, the way farmers' markets operate
in towns large and small (from the more traditional mercados in the
Peruvian Andes to as many as 23 diverse markets in the San Francisco
Bay Area) remains roughly the same. Groups of farmers gather in open,
designated public areas, mainly seasonally (but sometimes year-round),
to share their home-grown and often cheaper, whole, natural and, occasionally,
cooked foods with the public.
Even before the economy went into the tank, however, the growth of
farmers' markets was exploding, rising some 260 percent over the past
14 years, according to the USDA, to nearly 4,700.
Apart from the sour national economy, experts believe this uptick may
be a product of the Slow Food Movement founded two decades ago to reverse
the damaging effects of fast food and faster lifestyles and to counteract
the disappearance of local food. Others see it as a means to support
local, smaller businesses over larger grocery store chains and to reduce
our country's reliance and consumption of fossil fuels
The underlying moral: Reducing the distance between you and where the
food you eat is grown is good for the environment and your pocketbook.
Of course, saving money and cleaning up the environment is all well
and good, but you may still be wondering where health enters into the
Consider the story of an obesity prevention specialist running a wellness
program for the Texas Department of State Health Services and a veteran
of farmers' markets, who brought the farmers' market concept to her
office with the help of a San Antonio farmer and the Sustainable Food
Center in Austin, Texas.
So far, it's been a win-win proposition, not only for employees who
spend at least 10 percent less on their weekly baskets of fresh produce
than they would at the grocery store or the farmer who was searching
for a way to keep his family farm alive for another generation. With
the success of the concept assured, the Center is currently working
on a plan to provide home-grown produce to the kitchens of Austin public
Also, there's the Alegent Health System, a healthcare provider based
in Omaha, Neb., sponsoring farmers' markets this summer at hospitals
in Iowa and Nebraska to re-enforce the nutritional advice doctors often
dispense to patients.
In both cases, plans to make cheaper, fresher and healthier whole foods
more available were conceived as a means of subtly reversing the runaway
epidemic of obesity.
There's plenty of room to "grow" this movement. No more than 2 percent
of all Americans shop at farmers' markets, according to the USDA. The
one thing that could stand in the way of farmers' markets: The availability
of fresh, local food.
Interestingly, Whole Foods, the biggest of all natural grocery store
chains, may be doing something about it. The Austin-based grocer launched
a $10 million program two years ago to help independent, local producers
expand their businesses in hopes of supporting a brand new network
Some tips that'll better help you find healthy, locally grown foods
at a farmers' market near you or the corner grocery store:
1. Find a farmers' market in your area with the help of Local Harvest,
a directory of small farms, farmers' markets, and other local food
2. Be aware that not all foods you'll find at a farmers' market are
grown to stricter, pesticide-free organic standards.
3. Because the toxic residues found on fruits and vegetables not grown
organically can be harmful, before you shop for whole foods anywhere,
download the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides.
4. Check out the newest version of Locavore 2.0, a free software application
that can be used via the iPhone or Facebook to help you find farms
and farmers' markets within 100 miles of your home.
5. Be aware that there's no national standard that mandates what "locally
grown" actually means. Retailers like Wal-Mart consider "local" to
be foods grown and sold in the same state, while Whole Foods extends
that distance as far away as seven hours away from a store.
6. The range of products you'll find at a farmers' market varies greatly,
from fresh flowers and fruit preserves to food vendors serving pizza,
tacos and Korean barbecue, and may not always be as cheap as those
you'll find in a brick-and-mortar store.
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USDA Wholesale and Farmers' Markets/Managers Survey 2006
Hospital Promotes Smart Diet with Farmers' Markets, The Daily Nonpareil
Online July 5, 2009.
New Farmers' Markets Sprouting Up Everywhere, San Francisco Chronicle
June 30, 2009.
Strategies: Think Locally, Act Locally? Give It a Try.... USA Today
September 12, 2008.
Local Push at 'Natural' Grocery Chains Helps Farmers, Producers, USA
Today April 27, 2007.
Fresh Produce for State Employees in Austin, Austin American Statesman
November 12, 2007.
The statements above have not been evaluated by the US Food & Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Due to periodic improvements, our formulas and prices are subject to change.