Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Step 7 - Find a Local Farmer's Market

Keeping a healthy food system alive is the most important thing we can do for our civilization. Without food we cannot survive. But not just any food because we are only as good as the quality of our nutrition. When our vegetables and fruit are shipped from the far reaches of the planet, they arrive on our plates lacking most of the nutrients and vitamins that make them worth consuming. Then there is the health of our food system. When we consume foods from other countries (and even other regions within the United States), we are supporting a food system that is vulnerable, leaving too much room for failure. A severe case of blight can suddenly leave us without foods we depend on. And think how easily it would be to taint our mass produced foods - just a small vile of deadly bacteria poured into one of the large milk vats could reach, sicken (or even kill) millions of people. Our food system is weak.

Then there is also the support of local farmers in order to benefit the community, land and economy. By buying some of your food from them will benefit both the farmer and consumer. First of all, supporting farmers that work the land in a sustainable way means that the land you live on and near will be healthy, not desecrated by pesticides and herbicides. This is an important piece to remember - just because a farm is local does not always make it better. Know your farmer and ask questions about their farming practices. Choose to eat foods that both benefit you and the planet.

The easiest way to get to know your farmer and to try out different seasonal foods, is to go to your area farmer's market. There is the illusion that these markets are more expensive, that they are geared to a certain group of shopper's, and that the food is not as good quality as that bought at a grocery store. In most cases, none of these are true. Buying food directly from the farmer cuts out the middle man in pricing - which means that the prices are fair, and that 100% of the profit returns to the farmer, not a business. This allows them to plant the following year, feed their families, fix their farm machinery, and pay for their household. When the food is first funneled through a grocery store, the farmer gets much less back, forcing them to struggle. Why should we not support those that sustain us and instead put them at such financial risk that they may lose the farm? Also, the food bought at the market is of much better quality than that at the grocery store, but I know that sometimes it doesn't look as pretty. That's because grocery stores have visual requirements of their produce - anything that doesn't fit their size standard, or the blemish-free policy is thrown out. Not given back to the farmer. Not donated to a food pantry. But thrown out in the dumpster because it isn't as pretty or shiny as they would like it to be. Food grown naturally isn't always pretty or "perfect" though, it grows with hooks and dents, with jagged edges and with funky curves. There is beauty in imperfection.

With new money from the USDA being allocated for low-income food accessibility, farm fresh foods are easier to come by, no matter your income. Several farms now take food stamps, as do many farmer's markets. There is also the WIC program, that gives recipients a certain monthly allocation to buy foods at farmer's markets. The movement is slow going, but it is growing, and the more people that utilize these services, the faster it will grow.

Visiting a farmer's market can also be a destination for your family - there are usually musicians, arts & crafts and kid friendly activities. Find out when your next area market is, bring $20 and the family, and meet the farmers that grow your food and support your land. It could change your life.

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