I gave you plenty of tips the other day on how to shop at the supermarket, and today we're going to talk about your local farmers market.
As I've mentioned before, Nick and I are lucky in that the State Farmers Market is about 20 minutes from our house. It's open seven days a week all year long and there's always a wide variety of produce to choose from. If you're unsure where a farmers market is near you, go to localharvest.org and type in your zip code.
When buying fruit and vegetables from your farmers market, don't stock up unless you plan to can/freeze/otherwise preserve these items immediately. The produce available is usually picked when it's at its ripest, and won't be able to sit on your kitchen counter for as long as produce from the supermarket. Plan on using within the next day. Try not to discriminate against the not-so-perfect looking tomato or apple -- it most likely tastes even better than the bloated ones at the grocery store.
Again, you should keep track of what produce is in season in your region. There are a couple of vendors at our farmers market that provide avocados, pears, and strawberries year-round. Strawberries don't grow in North Carolina year round, and it's difficult at best to keep an avocado tree alive here. It pains me to admit it, but these vendors aren't being honest about where they obtain their fruit, and I may as well just buy these things directly from the supermarket because that's where they came from.
You will have sticker-shock when it comes to the local milk. At our farmers market, a half-gallon of milk costs nearly two dollars more than a full gallon of milk at the store. For a lot of people, buying a full gallon of organic milk is much more cost-effective than buying a half-gallon of milk at the farmers market. At least consider buying the local milk, however, for a couple of reasons: your money directly supports a local family; you can easily find out the living conditions of the dairy cattle in question; and the local milk often comes in reusable glass bottles, which is more environmentally friendly than plastic jugs.
Have a Chat
Finding out the living conditions of any animal involved in producing your food is crucial. Strike up a conversation with people selling meat and dairy products. Ask them about their farm, the kind of food their livestock eats, and their practices. Often, the farmer will invite you out to see their farm or let you know when tours are run. If they don't offer, you can always say something like, "I'd really love to show my kids happy animals on a farm!" It doesn't matter whether you have kids, or any intention of visiting the farm -- you're looking for a reaction. If the farmer balks, don't buy from him. He's most likely not confident that conditions will be up to your standards.
Things to listen for in conversations with farmers:
That last one might seem like a contradiction -- in an earlier post, I said that 'free-range' means nothing. Well, let me clarify: 'free-range' means nothing when large corporations are involved. However, 'free-range' means a lot when talking to a farmer who has no problem letting you see his farm. To be perfectly honest, those two words may not even enter the conversation -- it might not occur to the farmer that his chickens/pigs/cattle will live any other way.
The meat at the farmers market is a little more expensive than conventional meat. However, you should be comforted in knowing that your money does NOT go toward unnecessary antibiotics, hormones, or fillers. Because of a lack of fillers, you may feel satiated more quickly with less meat than when you eat conventional meat. So really, you're saving money.
Also, farmers market meat is almost always nitrate-free (the seller will specify when it's not), which is a plus for those of us who can't concentrate as well after eating processed meat. Nitrates cause a 'fuzzy' feeling in some people (including me), and after switching to organic, minimally processed, and/or local meat, that 'fuzzy' feeling will be gone. Rejoice!
I'll be writing individual posts in the future on eggs, beef, 'practicing organic', etc. For now, I'm putting off writing about factory farms, but it's critical in understanding why a change in our food culture is so important.