As summer quickly approaches, we transition into a season of picnics, parties, grilled food, and fresh salads. Before you head to the grocery store to buy ingredients for your next summer meal, consider supporting your community by purchasing produce from your local farmers market. Farmers markets provide a great opportunity to get outside and savor the sunshine, and they are beneficial both to you and to the farmers that provide their harvest. Following are the top five reasons to shop at your local farmers market this summer:
- Freshly picked, in season produce is at its peak in flavor and nutrition.
Fruits and vegetables purchased fresh from a farmers market have more nutritional value than food bought from a grocery store. Because produce in grocery stores travels a long way from the farm to the store, it must be harvested prior to ripening. When produce is harvested prematurely, it does not have time to fully develop all of the nutrients that are naturally present in ripe food. Additionally, as this unripe produce makes the long trek from farm to store, it gradually loses nutrients over time—a natural process that occurs in fruits and veggies while they are in storage.
Food purchased directly from farmers, however, has been picked at its peak ripeness and has a much shorter commute between the farm and your dining room table. This fresh produce can also be canned or frozen, which, contrary to popular belief, actually aids in the process of maintaining its high nutritional value. Canning provides an even longer shelf life than freezing foods, and doing so will allow you to enjoy fresh farm-to-table food even after the summer ends.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
We now know that farm-fresh food is higher in nutritional value than store-bought food—but what are these nutrients, and how are they beneficial to us?
Antioxidants, such as Vitamins A, C, and E, are chemicals often present in fruits and vegetables that aid in the prevention of cell damage, and they are thought to lower the risk of some diseases. Antioxidants interact with free radicals and prevent them from harming the body.
Phytonutrients, or “plant nutrients,” are chemicals that aid primarily in protecting plants from threats. By consuming these phytonutrients, your body will likewise be protected from certain dangers. There are numerous types of phytonutrients that play a variety of different roles in keeping the body healthy. Some, such as lycopene, are thought to aid in the prevention of prostate cancer, while other phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, can be converted by the body into Vitamin A.
- Farmers often have recommendations for preparing their products.
Whether you are learning to cook for the first time or have been feeding your family for years, you can glean new information about food preparation by engaging in conversation with farmers. While you shop, ask farmers which of their produce they most enjoy—they may even volunteer some of their favorite recipes! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, who would know better about fresh produce than those who grow it?
- It’s a great way to get your kids involved.
Taking your kids to the farmers market is a great opportunity for them to engage in hands-on food education. Allow your children to use their senses by letting them pick up and feel different fruits and vegetables and pointing out the foods’ different colors. Choose a recipe with your children ahead of time, and turn the shopping trip into a scavenger hunt by making a list of all the ingredients that they need to find. Encourage children to ask the farmers questions about their produce and the process of growing it. By getting your kids involved and making the process exciting, children will be more interested in trying new, healthy foods.
- Support your local farmers and economy.
By shopping local, you are stimulating your local economy, and you have the opportunity to meet and get to know the families that you are financially supporting. According to the Farmers Market Authority, “Today’s farmer receives less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar.” When purchasing directly from the farmer, the farmer gets the opportunity to set his own prices according to his standard of living. The farmer makes a larger profit, which allows him to pay for the upkeep of his farmland. This, in turn, allows the farmer to continue providing the community with fresh produce. Additionally, these farmers sometimes sell their products to local grocery stores and other retailers, thus benefitting the local economy.
Shopping at farmers markets is beneficial to your health and the economy, but it can also be an enjoyable summer activity! The farmers market allows you to meet other people in your community and get their best summer recipe recommendations. It also gives you the opportunity to escape the fluorescent confines of a grocery store and take in the sights and smells of locally grown produce while enjoying the sunshine. So get outside and kick off your summer with a trip to the farmers market!
Photo credit: Laura Flugga/iStock
Photo credit: RapidEye/iStock
Bettendorf Farmers Market
2117 State Street
Davenport Farmers Market
Wednesdays & Saturdays 8am–noon, May–October
Moline Farmers Market
7th Street & John Deere Road
(Trinity Hospital Parking Lot)
East Moline Farmers Market
Wednesdays & Saturdays 8am–noon, May–October
11th Street & Avenue
of the Cities
(Skate City Parking Lot)
Rock Island Farmers Market
2112 25th Ave.
(Rock Island County