We are blessed to live in a region where the rich and fertile Midwestern soil bears the fruits of a variety of some of the most delicious produce (and meat, dairy, grains, and flowers). So where might one go to find all of these amazing products? Well, one place is your local farmers market.
I believe that farmers markets are some of the greatest places on earth. To me there is nothing more beautiful than tables and crates stocked high with colorful fruits, vegetables, and flowers. I love to smell the fresh herbs as the breeze gently sweeps through the market. I enjoy meeting up with friends, reconnecting over coffee, and noshing on farm-to-table sweets and treats. The whole event has a certain energy to it - building excitement around buying food. You just cannot find this energy, around food, anywhere else. I know it doesn't happen in the aisles of my local grocery store. Well, maybe if you're at the one where you can drink wine while you shop...
In late 2017 I left my role as manager of our local farmers market. I ran the 27-week long event for over five years. In that role I learned a lot about seasonality and the labor and love it takes to grow the food that we eat. Having mostly shopped at grocery stores I was accustomed to buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. This is normal for American consumers. I'm guessing you can relate. This style of shopping is probably why so many Americans fail to consume enough fruits and vegetables. They taste like junk when they're harvested too soon, covered in wax, and shipped clear across the globe. According to Michigan State University Extension, on average, fruits and vegetables travel more than 1,494 miles before reaching grocery store shelves. Alternatively, 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 United States Department of Agriculture. Maybe in a future blog post I should do a side by side taste test - one item shipped in and the other locally harvested. I'm not a gambler but I bet the local item will win for flavor and texture in comparison to the item that was imported.
Working at the farmers market helped me to better understand what to buy, when to buy it, and most of all where to buy it. For example, asparagus harvested in the spring and sold at the farmers market tastes so much better than the stalky, woody spears sold year-round in the grocery store. Or take peaches and strawberries as another example. These are two fruits I enjoy eating but never really tasted them until I bought them in-season from the farmers market. The gush of flavor flowed through their juices. It was like a pop of all-natural sugary goodness. Now that is a sugary treat I will gladly serve my children!
As April turns to May and the start of the outdoor farmers market season kicks off I urge you to shop local and support your local farmers. Eating seasonally isn't hard, it's exciting. It tastes good and it helps support your community. Really! It's not only healthy for you and your family but it also creates a more vibrant and economically viable community. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, American farmers receive only 17.4 cents of every dollar American's spend on food. At the farmers market, however, farmers head home with upwards of 90 cents on the dollar. If the taste and quality of local food isn't enough to get you to shop local, this fact should now have you running to your local farmers market.
I recommend that if you're in Illinois that you check out the Illinois Farmers Market Association website to connect with your local farmers and farmers markets. I know that my two local farmers markets, Urbana's Market at the Square and the Champaign Farmers' Market, kick off their 2018 outdoor season in the next couple of weeks. I'll be there, and hope that if you're not in my area, that you support your local farmers markets. Oh, and stay tuned for recipes and stories on how you can eat seasonally. It's going to be DELICIOUS. I promise.