Your weekly trip to the farmers market might feel like another mundane errand, but it's really much more important than that.
Since the dawn of humanity, the marketplace has been a centerpiece of society—a place not just to buy and sell goods, but to meet and socialize with your neighbors. This summer, more than 8,500 farmers markets—50 percent more than there were five years ago—dot the American landscape. Whether they're in a large city, small town, or suburb, local farmers markets connect us more closely to the source of our food.
This week is National Farmers Market Week, and to celebrate, we're rounding up five reasons why your trip to the farmers market is so important.
1. Supports farms, farmers, and rural livelihoods
Between 2007 and 2012, America lost more than 95,000 farms—mostly small- and mid-sized ones. Many of these farms are being replaced by enormous factory farms run by corporations. For many small farms, markets provide a vital, direct link with a customer base that appreciates the quality and value of fresh, local, family-grown food. In fact, 25 percent of vendors get their sole source of income from farmers market sales. The dollars you spend at the market matter!
2. Boosts the local economy
Ever heard of the "economic multiplier effect"? The terms sounds a little esoteric, but the meaning is simple: spending your money at a retailer that is locally owned circulates money through the community rather than sending it elsewhere. Local farms employ local residents and farmers spend and donate their money in their local community. Of every $100 spent at a farmers market, $62 stays within the local economy and $99 within the state. In other words, you’re actually helping yourself when you shop at your farmers market.
3. Expands access to healthy food
We’ve got a national eating disorder: in too many households, cheap, unhealthy convenience products have replaced real food. This can be especially true for lower-income families struggling to make ends meet. The good news is, thousands of farmers markets across the country are making good food accessible to everyone by accepting nutrition benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC. But aren’t supermarkets more affordable? Not necessarily. Several localized studies have found that produce is cheaper at farmers markets than at regular stores.
4. Makes communities healthier
“Let food be thy medicine,” Hippocrates famously stated. He was right: nutritious, real foods are the building blocks of a long, healthy life. But again, many Americans have lost sight of this. Farmers markets flood our communities with the kinds of locally grown, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that lengthen lives, make us happier, and prevent disease.
But they do more than that: they build communities, too. By connecting neighbor to neighbor, and farmer to neighbor, social bonds are formed and strengthened, and communities grow in solidarity and unity.
5. Saves the environment
Farmers markets promote sustainability and curb greenhouse gas emissions, thus combating climate change. How do they do this? Most farmers markets only allow vendors to sell food produced within a certain distance—often 200 miles. Compare that to the average distance traveled by food sold in the U.S.—a little over 1,000 miles. That hugely reduces the amount of fuel needed to truck or ship produce from farm to store. Plus, nearly half of all farmers markets sell at least some organic foods. As we know, growing organic helps maintain soil quality and eliminates the need for potentially harmful pesticides. We can rest assured that our food dollar is greenest when it goes toward local food from local farms at our local market.
So what are you waiting for? Find your local farmers market in the USDA’s directory, grab a few reusable bags, and get to saving the world!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho