5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market

Hello! Madison here. Today I have 5 reasons why WFPB eaters should shop at the farmers’ market, complete with photos from my recent visit to the Dane County Farmers’ Market here in Madison, WI.

When I was 17 I worked for a very busy farm stand at the Dane County Farmers Market. I also worked at a farm in Trumansburg, NY, after college and took their produce to markets three days a week. I’ve spent a lot of time selling fresh produce and getting to know the people who buy it. Based on my experience at many different markets, as a vendor and a customer, I’ve included a few “pro-tips” that you can take into consideration when you’re shopping.

So why should WFPB eaters shop at farmers markets?

Reason 1: The source of your food matters just as much as what that food is.

As WFPB eaters, we make conscientious, disciplined, creative decisions to eat whole grains, legumes, and plants. But if those foods must be transported halfway across the world to reach us, we’ve negated all of the effort we are putting into making an environmentally-conscious choice in our diets. At the farmers market, you know that food is from a local source and required minimal transportation to get to your table. According to the USDA, “More than 85% of farmers market vendors traveled fewer than 50 miles to sell at farmers markets.  In fact, more than half of farmers traveled less than 10 miles to their market, according to the USDA.  Some farmers markets require that all of their produce come from a specified mileage limit.”

Pro-tip: When you first visit a market, check that growers are selling their own produce, grown on their own farm. Sadly, some markets have lax rules about sourcing produce, and sometimes the vendors sell wholesale produce that you could find in a grocery store. This is not a reason to stop shopping there, but perhaps visit the market website or find the market manager before you start your shopping to find out what has been grown locally.

The haul! Mmm, delicious!

Reason 2: The farmers’ market is a better place to spend your money because more money goes right to the growers.

According to the Farmers Market Coalition, “In 2017, American farmers receive only 17.4 cents of every dollar American’s spent on food [from the grocery store].” At market, vendors do pay a fee to be part of the market, but they still take home a much larger percentage of the price. Sometimes shopping at a smaller market can mean that the farmers are taking home an even larger percentage, because generally the less tourism-focused markets have a smaller fee for vendors (not universally true, but in my experience this is often the case).

Pro-tip: If you use food stamps, WIC checks, or an EBT card, more and more markets are accepting those forms of payment. In most cases, all you have to do is take your form of payment to the market manager’s office/tent, and exchange it for tokens that can be spent on fresh produce.

Teeny-tiny pea-shoot mushroom sandwich!

Reason 3: You can talk directly to the growers.

Do you only eat organic produce? Do you have particular food allergies? Do you only like radishes that aren’t too spicy (like me)? Well, at the market, all you have to do is ask! At many markets, the farm owners are right there to answer your questions. Even if the owner isn’t there, odds are good that the person selling the produce was involved in the production and can tell you about it.

Pro-tip: If a farmer does not label their produce as organic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they grow all their produce conventionally. I stand firm that the organic certification means a great deal to consumers, and when possible, farmers should try to get certified. However, sometimes it’s just too expensive for the farmer, so if you’re not sure if the produce is organically-grown or not, just ask! And even if it is grown with the use of certain pesticides, farmers rarely make that decision lightly, and often do a great deal of research into the pesticides they use. They are happy to tell you what they know, but make sure you approach the conversation with respect and do not seek out an argument (they’re probably too tired to argue with you anyway – market days are very tiring for growers!).

Radishes and Cherry Tomatoes

Reason 4: There are so many kinds of veggies and fruits to fill up our WFPB plates!

As WFPB eaters, we have a unique appreciation for including a diverse array of vegetables and fruits in our diet. Farmers markets are one of the best places to find quirky veggies and fruits, or specialty produce at a lower cost than it would normally be in the grocery store. At many markets now you can also find staple foods such as oats, beans, or even flour! If you’re like me and you love to try out new, weird, and wild produce, the market is the place for you!

A salad loaded with farmers market goodness

Reason 5: Farmers markets provide an added layer of environmental conservation.

Not only are they selling fresh, healthy, local produce, but they are helping to preserve the local farmland by getting more money right to the farmers, which in turn can help to prevent suburban sprawl and development. Most markets pop up weekly in local parks or public spaces, which reduces the amount of land taken up by supermarkets. More and more markets are focusing on reaching areas that are categorized as “food deserts” because they do not have easy access to affordable, fresh food. Many markets are plastic-bag-free, or the vendors often recycle plastic bags. I could go on, but I’ll stop there!

Pro-tip: Produce can be heavy, especially if you have to walk a lot at the market. Consider bringing a rolling bag/basket, or even a couple helpers to carry bags! Also, bring your own bags, because plastic breaks easily!

I hope I’ve helped convince you to try out your local farmers’ market this summer. We owe it to the WFPB movement to try to source locally both for our own health and for the health of the planet.

The most beautiful radish

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