Spring is here and summer is just around the corner, so enjoy the bounty of Farmers’ Markets
Are you stuck in a food rut? Do you find yourself gravitating toward the same vegetables and fruits over and over at the supermarket? If you’re looking to broaden your eating horizons, there’s no better place than a summertime farmers’ market to discover varieties of produce you might not have even known existed.
Take tomatoes, for instance. A farmers’ market can give you the opportunity to look well past the traditional red tomato by introducing you to heirloom varieties in yellow, orange, and even purple. Think summer squash is limited to zucchini and yellow squash? Think again. Summer squashes come in many shapes besides the oblong ones you’re most familiar with. There are round ones, pattypan, crookneck, and more. Even cauliflower isn’t limited to the white ones most commonly stocked in supermarkets. This veggie comes in yellow-orange, and purple, too, and while you’re not likely to encounter them at your local big-box store, a farmers’ market might surprise you.
If you are concerned about your overall body burden of potentially harmful compounds, shopping at a farmers’ market may be one way to reduce your dietary exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Not all small-scale, local farms are certified organic, or leave their crops completely untreated, but the benefit of a farmers’ market is that the people who are familiar with how the foods were grown are right there for you to ask. Even if they do employ certain compounds to help ensure a good harvest, the size of the farms and the economic resources available to them suggest that the total amount of compounds applied may be less than that used on produce grown in large-scale industrial operations.
Don’t limit yourself to vegetables, fruits, local honey, and artisanal baked goods at your farmers’ market. If your diet includes animal foods, a local farmers’ market can be a great source for high-quality grass-fed meats and dairy products, pastured pork and poultry, and eggs from free-range hens. Dairy products and fatty meat from grass-fed beef contains higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that may be helpful for weight loss and supporting a healthy inflammatory response. Dairy foods from grass-fed ruminants (cows, sheep, goats) may also be higher in vitamin K2 than that of animals that are primarily grain-fed. Vitamin K2 is required for proper regulation of calcium in the body: it helps to direct it into the bones and teeth, while keeping it from depositing dangerously into soft tissue, such as joints and arterial walls.
Meat vendors at farmers’ markets may also have available a more diverse selection of items than is typically found at supermarkets. For example, with the growing popularity of nose-to-tail cooking, as well as bone broth, local farmers may be able to supply customers with knuckle bones, marrow bones, and organ meats, such as liver and heart. (Don’t turn your nose up; organ meat is extremely nutritious!)
Besides the variety of meat and produce available, there are other reasons for shopping at a local farmers’ market. It helps support your local economy and keeps those food dollars in your community. You might also enjoy having a closer personal connection to the people who grow and raise some of your food, without several layers of middlemen between you. Additionally, some farms offer “workshares” – where you provide a few hours of helping out with planting, harvesting, or other farm work, in exchange for farm-raised food. This is a great arrangement if you’re interested in having a deeper connection to how your food is produced, and learning just what it takes to have a safe and nutritious food supply.
Here’s a handy guide to shopping at farmers’ markets from a farmer who runs a grass-based livestock farm in northwestern Virginia. And a humorous (but still relevant!) list of 4 questions to never ask at a farmer’s market.
To find a farmer’s market near your home
- Dhiman TR1, Anand GR, Satter LD, Pariza MW. Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets. J Dairy Sci. 1999 Oct;82(10):2146-56.
Shearer M et al. Chemistry, Nutritional Sources, Tissue Distribution and Metabolism of Vitamin K with Special Reference to Bone Health. J. Nutr. April 1, 1996 vol. 126 no. 4 Suppl 1181S-1186S.
- Gaullier JM et al. Six months supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid induces regional-specific fat mass decreases in overweight and obese. Br J Nutr. 2007 Mar;97(3):550-60.