Jefferson County has 18 of them at last count. The state of Alabama has approximately 130 across its 67 counties. Nationwide, there were 8,268 on record in 2014, up from 1,755 in 1994. Farmers Markets! Associated with summer days and evenings, from the tailgates of pick-up trucks to air conditioned spaces, these markets have increased in popularity in the last couple of decades. From early June or sooner to September or later, we’re reminded to “eat fresh, eat local” as a means to better health and closer ties to our communities and farmers.
You haven’t visited a farmers market at all?! OK, here are a few [good] reasons to include a stop at one or more in your area.
If you can’t or don’t grow it yourself, farmers market produce is the next best thing! Since locally grown and sold vegetables, fruits, nuts, and berries aren’t shipped long distances or gassed to ripen quicker, you’ll be getting the freshest and tastiest!
Seasonal foods from the farmers market remind us that foods too reflect our culture and culinary history. You understand that a watermelon offered at a market in July or August is probably grown nearby. A watermelon sold in January? Well, probably not from around these parts!
Holding a sunny yellow squash in your hand is only a step or two from tasting it in your mouth. Young tender sliced squash needs little or no processing, only washing to remove any superficial debris. Meanwhile, all the nutrients are still to be unleashed with the first bite, which I personally prefer lightly steamed with onions! Squash from a farmers market has not been processed, waxed or irradiated, with some growers offering “organically grown” to their customers.
Most farmers markets offer traditional foods as familiar as our grandmother’s ice cold lemonade, but many also give farmers growing produce most of us don’t see or at least don’t know much about a chance to broaden our culinary horizons. Heirloom tomatoes, purple cauliflower, chicken eggs in delicate shades of green, blue, or brown, or carrots in as many colors as a rainbow all add color and variety to our choices.
Support your family’s health while supporting local farms, many of them family owned and run for multiple generations. It has become increasingly difficult for family farms to compete with giant corporations capable of generating large amounts of relatively inexpensive produce. And while prices at farmers markets are generally less than conventional food marts, even at the same price it’s hard to attach a dollar amount to freshness.
Finally, many farmers markets are supported by repeat visitors, to the point some are there as much for community connectivity and socializing as for vendor stalls bursting with color and variety. Children dash about sampling produce, adults reconnect with neighbors they haven’t seen in months, while famers get to know their customers and vice versa. Recipes are swapped between customers or offered by vendors while a deeper connection is made between producer and consumer.
So what are you waiting for?
By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Contact Sallie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.