Farmers market

A majority of shoppers believe their farmers market increases their connection to the community.

Now let’s continue the journey about why you should be shopping at the Farmers’ Market.

The impact that farmers’ markets have on local communities was recognized in 1999 when the United States Department of Agriculture proclaimed the first week in August as “National Farmers’ Market Week.”

In the last few articles, we talked about the history of farmers markets and a brief exposure to supply and demand, but I wanted to show how the ongoing history of farmers’ markets is now impacting the food supply chain and the building of communities in its course.

A study done in 2016 shows that while there are several good reasons to shop at a farmers’ market, only about 12% of Americans do. Most Americans, 85%, shop at supermarkets and grocery stores, but they also frequent other outlets as well. Of the 85% who shop at supermarkets, 55% grocery shop at supercenters such as Walmart. As we all know, many food items that these outlets stock are imported and as we can see, the supply chain of imported items is slowly grinding to a halt. I expect we will see that 12% number increase dramatically in the coming months.

A somewhat dated study (2012) by the USDA stated there were 163,675 farms, and 7.8% of all U.S. farms marketed foods to the local community. Of the 7.8%, about 80%,or a little over 130,000 of these farms, sold directly to consumers through farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture arrangements. Eighty five percent of these farms had less than $75,000 dollars in yearly sales.

The USDA says that there are about 9,000 registered farmers’ markets in the U.S. That is about a 180% percent increase since 2006. It must be noted that not every farmers’ market is registered with the USDA; there are probably several thousand more that are not registered.

Let’s look at a few of the benefits of shopping at the Farmers’ Market here in town.

Farmers’ markets are more seasonally-oriented in that they rely on what produce is currently in season. Big chain suppliers of groceries can maximize their resources to acquire out-of-season produce from areas where it is in season, but that isn’t sustainable and ultimately contributes to loss of freshness and nutritional value and increased price. Local seasonal produce and fruits contain higher densities of nutrients, and are therefore healthier than the fruits and vegetables imported from other areas.

For those of you concerned about the cost difference of produce at supermarkets compared to local farmers markets, a 2014 University of Colorado Cooperative Extension study says that farmers’ market prices are competitive with regular supermarket prices. Cindy Fake, UCCE farm advisor in Placer and Nevada counties of Colorado, said, “Produce at the farmers market is sold the same day or the day after it is harvested. Because of that, its shelf life is two to three times longer than what is found in the supermarket. And because it is so fresh, you have a higher nutrient content and it will taste better.”

Aside from freshness and nutrition, farmers markets foster interactions among people of different race, class, age and lifestyle. A comparison of shoppers at farmers markets and supermarkets shows that people shop in the company of others more frequently at farmers markets and have more social encounters. In fact, 28% of the shoppers surveyed said that one of the farmers’ market greatest benefits to the community is that it “brings people together” providing for unity in the face of division. This healthy and social interaction implies that the social opportunities markets create provide important public health care benefits.

Three out of every four farmers selling at farmers markets say they use practices consistent with organic standards. Organic farming is all about creating food the natural way. Sixty-nine percent of the farmers at a market sell vegetables, 53% sell livestock, poultry or eggs, 47% sell fruits and tree nuts, and 31% sell value‐added products. Additionally, farmers’ markets provide one of the only low-barrier entry points for beginning farmers, allowing them to start small, test the market and grow their businesses.

According to the USDA, farmers and ranchers that sell commercially only receive 15.6 cents of every dollar that consumers spend on food in the U.S. due to processing, supply chain and marketing costs. Farmers who only sell direct to consumers at the farmers’ market keep 90 cents of each dollar made. When you shop at a farmers’ market, you are contributing to preserving America’s rural livelihoods and farmland.

Shopping at a farmers’ market provides the consumer a chance to interact with the farmers. The farm vendors educate their shoppers. Four out of five farmers selling at markets discuss farming practices with their customers, and three in five discuss nutrition and how to prepare food.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that “local food systems with short supply chains are resilient and dependable in making food available to their communities and that the outdoor environments are often safer than alternative indoor retailers.” Our market additionally allows you to get involved as an artisan, selling items like soap, candles, jewelry, pottery and more.

According to studies performed, a majority of shoppers feel that their farmers’ market increases their connection to the community, 53% believed the market improved perceptions of their neighborhood, and a staggering 99% believed the market improved the health of their community. Not only do patrons shop for farm fresh food, but they also engage in conversation, meet neighbors for lunch and enjoy the festive atmosphere with family and friends. Research indicates people thrive and are naturally happier when socially connected.

Farmers’ markets could not exist without the mutually-beneficial relationship of the farmers and producers and you, the customer. Farmers engage in sustainable practices and producers buy locally sourced ingredients to help sustain the economy. They produce healthy food and products to help sustain the local community. The local community – you – provides the money necessary to sustain the farmers and producers and in return the farmers spend that money in the neighborhood to sustain their farm. It’s a win-win relationship worthy of a big celebration!

Farmers markets are, and probably always have been, essential. They provide the means to keep money flowing in local economies by providing shoppers with an opportunity to buy directly from small, local business and independent farmers and vendors, many of whom practice sustainable farming methods that protect our planet’s water, soil and air. The market also increases access to fresh, nutritious food, particularly in communities where there are empty shelves in grocery stores and other food retail outlets and is a place where friends, family and neighbors can come to visit with one another, learn about food and agriculture, or just relax and have fun.

As challenging as it is, farmers markets provide a necessary sense of unity and stability at a time we need it most.

How do I see the future for farmer markets?

Newspapers and magazines are full of articles and reports about high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and early death. You have heard the media’s challenges to just control portion sizes and to not eat everything put on our plates. Along with the nutrition claims comes the food supply going down and the demand on the rise, causing the price of food to rise with it. This means more people will turn to food banks. The rising food prices also make it just that much more expensive to fill the shelves of the food banks.

You may not be aware that one in seven people in the U.S. struggle to put food on the table much less worry about overeating. Rural households in particular seem to be hit especially hard by hunger – 23.6% of rural households with children were deemed food-insecure in 2014. Counties in the U.S. labeled as non-metro or rural account for 51.5% of all “high hood-insecurity rate counties.” A trend, which we here at our market embrace, is to provide a viable solution to providing food-insecure families with fresh fruits and vegetables through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Due to this and other factors, 52% more SNAP households shop at farmers markets or from direct marketing farmers today than in 2011.

With the customer’s change in view to a fresher, more nutritious meal for their families, I believe farmers’ markets are here to stay. The more food supply chain problems keep the shelves in the local grocery stores empty, the more people will turn to a more sustainable and local supply to put food on the table. Technology, both in products and investments will help farmers markets to grow through the use of new techniques in organic farming.

As we have seen in the last couple of years, our farmers’ market has made the community more resilient during catastrophic events. Not only that but, our market provides a more leisurely shopping and learning experience, and the produce is often better quality.

We have to remember that the longer fruits and vegetables take to get to the store and then sit on the shelf, the loss of key nutrients and antioxidants reduce the value of the item. Our farmers pick their product either the night before or the day of the market.

So, the next time you visit us, look beyond the tomatoes and cucumbers. You’ll see an organization that’s promoting health and wellness, contributing to the local economy and bringing people together.

As always, SNAP vouchers can be used at some of the vendor booths. And Double Up tokens are used in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Arizona. You can use your EBT card at the info booth for SNAP vouchers and Double UP tokens (unlimited amount right now).

Thursday the farmers’ market opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m. We are looking forward to seeing you all at this coming week’s market. For more information on all our vendors and the products they will be bringing, please see this week’s newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com. Also, check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sierravistafarmersmarket/.

Submitted by “Uncle” Ralph Wildermuth. For the full story, visit myheraldreview.com.