Our globalized food chain has fundamentally changed how we as Americans shop for our food. What this has done is caused generations of Americans to become miseducated and misinformed about the seasonality of the food they purchase and consume.
Time Magazine published an article back in 2014 about the future of food and how experts believe our plates will change - and look - as we move forward as a society. From this article I really appreciate the comments made by Daniel Patterson, the two-Michelin-star chef of San Francisco's restaurant, Coi. He said stated,
"The best possible change for the American diet would be less meat, less processed food, more real cooking. If we can reach young people now and give them better options, they could upend the current way of eating in one generation. My hope is that high-level chefs can use their skills and experience to rethink our systems of institutional eating: fast food, schools, prisons and hospitals."
What Chef Patterson said rings true to a lot of the education, outreach, and marketing that I've been a part of over the past six years. It's the urge create awareness and a better understanding about less processed food and real cooking. As a society we need to focus on learning about where our food comes from, how its grown, and about the people that grow it. That is where our farmers markets come into play - they help to bridge the gap that is missing between the producer and the consumer.
Farmers markets build community around food - the fresh, healthy, in-season kind of food. They offer an opportunity for people disconnected from farming and local food systems to access fresh and less processed food. Farmers markets are quickly becoming the place to find organic and sustainably raised produce, dairy, and meat. Lastly, they offer a multitude of resources for shoppers including recipes, education, and the opportunity to use SNAP benefits.
Our family consumes significantly more fruits and vegetables when we shop the farmers market. We set aside a portion of our food budget to purchase farm-fresh produce, honey, dairy, and meat (and often times inedible items, too, because everyone loves fresh cut flowers). We keep up with our favorite growers and producers as a way to educate ourselves about what is in season. We anticipate what's next in the harvest and adjust our meal plans accordingly. Sure, it might sound like a lot of work, but it's totally worth it. This effort is not just showing but teaching my children about real food. It's building a healthy relationship with food and learning to properly fuel our bodies so we can be the healthiest and best version of ourselves.
According to the Illinois Farmers Market Association (ILFMA), Illinois ranks 3rd in the nation for total number of farmers markets, with more than 400 unique markets across the state. There are no shortage of farmers markets to visit and shop and they're easy to find thanks to ILFMA and MarketMaker. Together these two organizations developed the What's in Season app. Whether you're on the road or close to home, this app helps you to discover a bounty of fresh, local, and in-season agricultural products. And you know what's so great? The app is super easy to use! Follow these simple steps and you'll be off to the farmers market in no time:
On your desktop, laptop, or tablet go to www.whatsinseasonapp.com
Enter your current location or zip code
A map will pop up that, by default, shows you the farmers markets within a 10 mile radius of your location. You can extend this radius by clicking on the white oval button in the top right hand corner of the map.
Below the map you'll see the products available right now in your area. You can even click on the product name to locate where to purchase that item!
You can also access all the necessary information about the markets in your area like location, time of day, day(s) of week, website, and more!
With this handy app there is no excuse to not visit your local farmers market or find a new farmers market visit while you're traveling. See you around the markets!
Side note: One thing I do want to make note of is the impact that weather has on harvest. Some years we have significant rain (think about the 8 inches we had this past month in downstate Illinois) or very dry spells coupled with consecutive heat advisories. All of these variables impact the growing season and when products can be harvested. Sometimes extreme weather conditions significantly impact products in so far as a crop is lost and/or must be re-planted. My purpose for sharing all of this is that sometimes the What's in Season App may be off by a week or two. That's totally normal! As a former farmers market manager I can't tell you how hard it was to predict what was in season without constant communication with my vendors. As a consumer, you can also build that relationship and open that line of communication by frequently visiting your local farmers markets, keeping up with the app, and staying active on your favorite farmer's (and farmer market) social media platforms!