Winters in the Midwest are long not only because of the cold weather, but also due to the limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. We have small winter markets where one can purchase turkeys for the holidays, root vegetables that store over the winter and jars of all things pickled but nothing compares to the selection available during the summer months. If you’re concerned that the cost of buying organic produce is beyond your financial budget, focus instead on buying local produce. There are several benefits to buying local produce regardless of whether or not it is organic. Michigan State University Extension outlined 7 benefits of eating local foods:
- Locally grown food is full of flavor. Like most children, I despised brussels sprouts. Several years ago I purchased a stalk of brussels sprouts (which at the time I didn’t even realize that they grew on long stems) and was blown away by their delicious flavor and simple preparation. The difference was freshness. Sprouts purchased from a farmers market are likely consumed within 3-5 days of harvesting. The brussels sprouts boiled and scooped onto my plate as a child had a much longer journey from farm to grocery store shelves and the taste suffered.
- Eating local food is eating seasonally. Strawberries are my favorite fruit but I’m willing to wait all winter for the ones from the farmers market that have juicy, bright red centers rather than purchasing the ones from the grocery store that have green tops and hard, white centers. Eating seasonally has made me appreciate my food more. Every spring I bake batches of rhubarb chocolate brownies when rhubarb is in season. For me it signals the start of the farmers market season.
- Local food has more nutrients. As mentioned above, local food gets from farm to your plate faster than produce imported from far away places that has to travel from farm to distribution center to grocery store. When you purchase Chilean grapes at the grocery store, know that it took 2 weeks and 5500 miles just to transport the grapes from Chile’s port to Los Angeles.
- Local food supports the local economy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average farmer earned $64,170 USD in 2015. Seven out of ten farmers are self-employed. My local farmers market not only brings in farmers but local restaurants who brew coffee and make crepes to feed the hungry shoppers.
- Local food benefits the environment. Those Chilean grapes referenced earlier that travel 5500 miles to the U.S. aboard a ship require a lot of petroleum not only to fuel the ship but also for the trucks that distribute the produce to stores across the country. Additionally buying local produce helps maintain farmland and green space in your community.
- Local foods promote a safer food supply. Food that is transported by ship to truck to a sorting and distribution facility to another truck to your grocery store has a greater risk of becoming contaminated in the process. As news stories have shown, buying organic produce does not minimize the risk. Buying local lessens opportunities for contamination.
- Local growers can tell you how the food was grown. Farmers are happy to tell you about their growing practices. Some will even invite you to their farm to see the process. Talking to the growers is also a great way to get kids engaged. Farmers are usually happy to let kids sample the different varieties of fruits or cheese.
This summer plan some family trips to the farmers market to expose your child to the variety of fruits and vegetables available and to help them understand food sourcing. Even the youngest tots can practice identifying colors or shapes. Picky eaters can try samples and find a new favorite. Older children can practice counting money. Farmers markets are very family-friendly but here are some items that we’ve found to be useful when heading to the market.
Pictured: Be sure to pack some shades! We love Sons + Daughters Eyewear (other colors available); A great book to read before or bring along is We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market. It features beautiful illustrations of the sights to be seen at the market; Farmer’s go through a lot plastic bags and berry containers. Help them save money (and keep the price of the produce lower) by bringing your own containers and bags. The Chef’n Bramble Berry Basket doubles as a colander and container. Kids can carry their own picks in the unique “B is for Broccoli” bag; Travel in style in the Radio Flyer Deluxe Grandstand 3-in-1 wagon. The convertible wagon offers three different seating options and removable canopy.
Ready to head to the farmers market? Here’s a list of Farmers Markets in the U.S.