Think Beyond your Plate
by Jewell Fears

I was talking to a friend over the weekend about how I write for the FRESHFARM Blog and she asked what all the hype was about with farmers markets. Yes, they're fun to walk around on a Sunday morning with piping hot coffee, but beyond that why do people love them so much? After I got over the shell shock and could speak –about 10 minutes later- I went on what I like to call my Farmers Market Call to Arms. Ok, maybe it's not that serious, but I definitely was determined to convert her to the dark side by the end of our conversation.

Trying to decide how best to begin my campaign, I thought maybe I could simply give her the highlights of what farmers markets have meant to me and those I know that have come to love them as well. Hence the forthcoming list of the Top 5 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets:

1. Fruits and vegetables are always in season and ripe
Farmers only bring what they have most recently harvested, and they can only harvest crops at their peak for that season. If it’s not in season, it’s not at the market. Additionally, because the produce is at its peak, it’s both more nutritious and riper than that of any of its counterparts at larger chains.

2. Know your farmer, know the farm practices
Many times you’ll be able to meet your farmers or a farm representative while attending the market and ask them questions about their growing methods. Curious if they use pesticides or if they’re truly as organic in their practices as they say? Go ahead and ask.

3. Affordable prices (We all love them!!)
Being that the food is coming straight from the grower, there are no costs associated with extra packaging to preserve it, refrigerate it or maintain freshness except the distance from the farm to the market. Think shipping food from California vs. a family farm in Maryland.

4. Variety, Variety, Variety

Family farms can basically grow whatever they want. That means fun for everyone! You can find heirloom varieties that larger chains would never mass produce, seeds from across the world, and new strains of vegetables the farmers themselves may have developed. I don’t know about you, but I have never believed that all tomatoes are created equal!

5. Humanely raised, fed and butcher meats

Knowing that the meat I purchase has been treated and fed wholesome foods has always been important to me. Although most livestock is raised to be butchered, that shouldn’t mean their lives should be less healthy or peaceful before visiting the butcher.

Bullet points are awesome for a blog post, but I unfortunately didn’t have my laser pointer with me during my discussion with my friend so I rambled on for about 20ish minutes extolling the above points. By the end my friend was willing to concede that overall I had good points and might consider shifting her view of the markets’ importance. Was it a complete success? Meh... But she did agree to forgo her usual grocery shopping trip at a larger chain this week and to go with me to next weekends’ farmers market to purchase her groceries there. I may have won the battle (one week at a time), but I’m more excited to win the war! #oneforthehometeam

Have you ever met someone that describes themselves as a "locavore?" Are you a locavore yourself? Among the many food trends that have been circulating through popular culture over the past several years, the local food movement focuses on the benefits of eating food grown by farmers within a nearby geographic location.

There is no precise definition or distance that makes something local, but the general consensus is that it originates from at most 100 miles away. Additionally, the food is always sold directly from producer to consumer (like at a farmers market!). At FRESHFARM's markets, we work with farmers and producers from D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Eating local can be beneficial because:
  • it helps to support the local economy
  • it provides customers with food that is likely fresher than what can be store bought
  • it promotes healthier eating and lifestyle habits (because you can't directly grow a bag of potato chips or a candy on a farm)
  • it protects the environment (by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released by reducing the distance traveled from farm to table and the added emphasis on sustainable farming practices also associated with the movement)

Some critics question whether the local food movement actually makes a notable impact on the environment or whether small-scale farming practices are a feasible and sustainable economic model. For example, transporting food a shorter distance does not necessarily mean less energy will be expended.

Statistics aside, the thought behind the movement shows a commitment to protecting the future of the environment, economy, and our personal and community health. If the application isn't exactly perfect now, we can always keep improving. In fact, last year the Washington Post reported that as much as 90 percent of Americans could theoretically be fed locally.

Your involvement in the FARMSHARE program plays a part in supporting local agriculture! We hope you have been enjoying the process just as much as we have!