My original intention was to write about all my experiences visiting my local farmers markets; the entertainment, the farmers I met, the vast variety of food offered, and the people I met shopping…But once I set out to do this, I was struck by how few fellow shoppers were present. My first stop was Simsbury Farmers Market where the entertainment was fantastic, weather couldn’t be better, and there was a wide variety of farmers and food offered with seating to enjoy the day. There was even a cooking demo as I arrived with free tastings being offered by the top notch, much sought after chef Christopher Prosperi from Metro Bis
I thought about it for a long time; what is preventing people from visiting their local farmers markets? How can we make it easier or more desirable for them? I didn’t have the answers, so I started asking people everywhere I went – the store, friend’s houses, restaurants, even at the bank! My question was “Do you ever shop at a farmers market?” If no, then I followed with “Why not?”, if the answer was “Sometimes”, then I followed with “What keeps you from doing it regularly?”, if “yes”, then I asked which one they shop at and why.
I got some pretty interesting answers, some that I anticipated and others that surprised me. I wonder if any of these resonate with you?
“I would, but I just don’t have time and so I get everything I need at the grocery store.”
A good farmers market will offer a balance of foods and sometimes even household needs, I know as a former Market Master this was a priority for me as we began our planning in early February to secure a wide variety of vendors each week. Market Masters work really hard to make sure that all your needs can be met at their market, they know they are competing with supermarkets, Walmarts, as well as other farmers markets. If there is something you would like but is not offered at your local farmers market, talk to the Market Master to find out if they can locate a vendor for that and if not why, you can usually find them at the market booth or walking around tending to the market. If you are having difficulty finding them, ask a vendor, they will know where to find them. When I was visiting the Simsbury Farmers Market in preparation for this piece, I spoke with Anne-Marie Regish who has been their Market Master for the past three years. I pulled her aside after the cooking demo to ask her to summarize why she does what she does and what her short term and long term goals of the market are. Her answers are reminiscent of what I hear from most Market Masters; “I love my vendors, they are one of my big motivators. I want to support them, while providing the community with all they need in one stop. Long term, I want to continue to build and become a community event where people come to learn and connect to where their food comes from, it’s about the education and sense of community along side the farmers. Children especially can learn so much coming to the market and meeting the farmers.” Talk to not only the farmers when you visit, but also the Market Master, they are a wealth of information and passionate about making sure you have the best possible shopping experience.
In terms of time constraints on our lives, I know my shopping habits likely vary from the average consumer, but I personally find that the most time consuming part of my trip to a grocery store is in the produce section. By shopping at farmers markets, I am able to get that part out of the way and just run into a grocery or drug store once a month for the other, non-perishables such as toothpaste, toilet paper, dish detergent, etc. If I am in a rush, I can be in and out of a farmers market in 15 minutes or less with all the produce I need for the week. The best part is there is no standing in long lines like at the grocery store – huge time saver! Typically though, I like to break it up to two visits to farmers markets per week so I get the freshest produce possible, and I enjoy talking to the farmers so I try to allow a little more time.
“I just don’t have the money to shop at farmers markets right now.”
This one got me curious as to what exactly the cost differential is. I compared what was currently in season and available at the farmers market with produce in the local grocery store. Here is what I found:
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So yes, the farmers market is more expensive. BUT, the produce bought at the farmers market was much, much fresher, more colorful, and with by far the most flavor. Interestingly, when looking at organic offerings, the farmers market was the same cost, if not cheaper than the grocery store and there was an even more noticeable difference in freshness, with the farmers market produce coming out ahead. I personally would prefer to buy less but get more intense flavor, but that is personal preference. I also feel good buying directly from my neighbors, helping to support their hard work. The money I spend on my neighbors I know will come back to me, the money stays within the community rather than going to support big businesses or farms in foreign countries. So while this does not change the fact that it costs more, it is extra I am willing to spend and make cuts in other areas that are less of a priority for me. If you are not frequenting the grocery store as often, it is likely that you will in turn save money on impulse or prepackaged, unhealthy food options as well. I know when I shop in the grocery store I always leave with items that were not on my list, that I probably didn’t even know existed or that I needed…They are so darn good at getting us to impulse buy!
Another exciting addition to many farmers markets if their ability to accept SNAP and WIC, so if you qualify for these programs – what better way to use those dollars than at your local farmers market getting the freshest, most nutrient dense food around? Most farmers market websites will tell you whether or not they accept these, or you can ask the Market Master. Additionally, Wholesome Wave has been piloting a program that allows doctors to write “prescriptions” for fruits and vegetables to be redeemed at a farmers market.
“Honestly, I just keep forgetting, it is not part of my routine and by the time I remember it is over”
This one is tricky – I believe this was probably the most common response I received (or some variation of). Training yourself to make the farmers market trips a priority is difficult, just like establishing any new habit. Many times, just as you begin to get in the habit, the season ends (in New England anyway…). I challenge you to dig a little deeper though – are you really just forgetting, or is there another barrier? If you continue to forget, why have you not set an alarm or alert on your smart phone? Put it on your calendar? Do it now, while you are thinking about it…..No, seriously, I will wait………..
Done? Now that was an easy fix – no more excuses! 😉
“It is out of my way, I stop at (insert name of store) because it is on my way home.”
I urge you to find a farmers market that is on a day off that you can make a destination. Bring the family or go with a friend. Make an event out of it. Look up all the markets that happen within a reasonable distance on that designated day and create a challenge to see how many you can visit before the season is over. This could turn into a fun summer ritual, a chance to explore towns, farms, foods, etc…Food shopping has become such a dreaded chore in our culture, however shopping at a farmers market puts back all the elements that make it enjoyable – smells, color, a sense of community, music, tastings, etc. I am pretty certain that once you give it a try you will be hooked and will find it worth the extra drive to shop at the farmers market instead.
“They don’t have a lot of the things I use”
Farmers markets are in the business of real food. If you are not in the habit of preparing and eating real food, this can be overwhelming to say the least! Start small. Try making your own food from scratch a couple days a week using food found at the farmers market. You can search online for recipes, I will post some here but some of my other favorite resources are 100 days of real food and Eating Well – both of these sites are great for beginners. I also like to talk to the farmer to get their favorite quick and easy recipes, they are certainly strapped for time and they are eating what they grow which make them the perfect resource! Also you can talk to farmers and Market Masters about including other foods that you wish to purchase – as long as the items follow the market rules and guidelines, they will likely want to accommodate you.
I would love to hear from you – Are you shopping at the farmers market? Why or why not? What are some of the barriers you face or have overcome?