Photo by Rachael Brugger
If you’re a supporter of local food in your area, there’s no doubt you have a favorite farmers’ market that is your go-to spot for local goods—maybe you even sell at one! Whether you’re a market farmer, a home gardener who supplements your fresh fare with other local products, or a farmer wannabe who is supporting area growers until you have your own piece of land, you’re not alone. In the past 10 years, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of farmers’ markets nationwide.
As of 2012, 7,864 farmers’ markets were listed in the USDA’s directory, a 150-percent increase from 2002. Over that time period, markets have also become more equipped to serve a more diverse population, according to the Farmers’ Market Coalition, with more markets becoming authorized to accept benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infants and Children program, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition program.
"Nationally, as America’s farmers' markets continue to grow, they’re also becoming critical community assets and lively public spaces, bringing families from all backgrounds to meet friends, purchase healthy, fresh, affordable food from local farmers and increasingly, providing access to families using their WIC, Senior and SNAP benefits,” says Gus Schumacher, FMC board member and recent James Beard Foundation Leadership Award recipient.
Next week, Aug. 4 to 10, 2013, is designated National Farmers Market Week by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak, and tomorrow, the USDA will release their 2013 farmers’ market numbers. In the meantime, here are ways you can celebrate your favorite market and the farmers who sell at it.
1. Bake a pie or cake using only local goods.
What’s a celebration without delicious pastries to get the party started? Hit up local farmers selling free-range eggs, hand-milled flour, and organic fruits and nuts. If your recipe box is lacking a tasty pie or cake recipe (yeah, right!), try one of these:
2. Taste one new veggie a week.
This is a fun way to amp up your dinner-table offerings while learning about interesting varieties of produce growing in your area. Pick up a daikon radish or a bag of Black Krim tomatoes, learn how to prepare them, and compare the flavor to other more familiar varieties. You can also make this into a fun game for the family: Challenge your children to find the brightest/biggest/funniest-named vegetable and put the selections to a family vote.
3. Each month, replace one big-box-store good with a product made locally.
When being intentional about buying local foods, it can be hard to veer from familiar grocery-store favorites all at once. One solution is to slowly begin to introduce what will be new, local favorites into your grocery list. I started by selecting one product a month that I would commit to buying locally. I’ve done this with flour, milk, eggs and even my breakfast cereal!
4. Pull out the umbrella.
Farmers sell at the market rain or shine. Support them in their dreariest moments by braving the weather to do your shopping.
5. Organize a farmers’ market tour.
You might be in love with the local farmers’ market, but some people in your community might find it intimidating. Work with your market’s manager to provide farmers’ market tours to people who want to know more about the farmers and the products being sold.
6. Start a local-foods supper club.
Encourage your friends to start experimenting with locally grown foods and encourage community spirit by starting a monthly supper club. Each month, the hosting family provides the main dish, while everyone else supplements the rest of the meal, from salads and appetizers to desserts and drinks—all made locally, of course. Consider promoting the face behind the food by attaching to the salad bowl a picture and information about the farmer who grew that lettuce.
7. Teach a local-foods cooking class.
Sometimes people want to eat healthy but don’t know where to start. If you're a whiz in the kitchen, consider imparting your skills through organized cooking classes. Pair up with a local farmer to provide the produce for the dishes you plan to cook.
8. Become a farmer for a day.
There’s a lot that goes into getting carrots, Swiss chard, beets and the other veggies we’ve grown to love from field to market. If you know a farmer in need of help (and I guarantee there’s plenty of them out there), offer to volunteer your time planting, harvesting or even selling at market.
9. Glean the market.
Even after a busy market day, some produce doesn’t sell because it’s ugly, too big, too small … you name it. Help out the farmer, who will probably end up dumping this perfectly edible product into the compost pile, by picking it up and donating it to a local soup kitchen or hunger agency. Not only will you be taking a load off the farmer, you’ll be fighting hunger—with tasty nutritional food—in the process.
10. Give the market some press.
Do you write a blog about your favorite delicious recipes or things happening in your community? Use your gift of the written word to lift up your farmers’ market and share some of the interesting things found there that make it so valuable to your community.
11. Give a gift.
Show your appreciation for the hard work your market’s farmers do every week by providing them a gift from the heart. Write a thank-you note, bake some cookies or make some soaps—something that lets them know their work is important to you.
How Do You Support Farmers' Market?
Here are some ways that you told us you support your local farmers’ market.
- "Whatever I don't grow in my own garden, I get at the market. And eggs, eggs!! I grew up on a farm, understand the hard work and love supporting local farmers!” —Heidi Jones Morin
- "I purchase an Organic Harvest Box from a farm at the farmers' market. Each Tuesday, the farm sends me an email describing what will be in the veggie box that week. If I want to purchase, I reply with a request. When I get to the farmers' market, it is waiting for me. And while I'm there, I browse to see what there is at the other stands. I have not been disappointed with the veggies, so fresh and tasty. New vegetables for me have been garlic scapes, Red Rain mustard and Walla Walla spring onions. Oh, I had the most delicious sugar snap peas ever!” —Shelby Northup
- "[At the farmers’ market you get] personal service, good conversation and advice when you usually can't get it anywhere else, particularly on freezing and canning. And if you’re real lucky and the older generation is there, you get a story of the past, and how things were, which is the way things should be now. If more people started their own hobby farms and got a little more ‘off the grid,’ there would be a little less stress in life." —Larry Brady
- "Every year I try to do a blog post about my favorite vendors at my farmer's market (this year I did a week series!), and once a week, I post a picture of the most beautiful thing I bought that week.” —Brooke Idol
Tell us more about how you support your farmers' market on our Facebook page.