Along with the arrival of warm weather, is the arrival of local farmer’s markets! Every foodie and pellethead alike know the utter bliss of walking past stall after stall of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. The cherry red tomatoes and deep green zucchini are simply beckoned for you to come to snatch them up, slice them into perfect chunks, sprinkle a little seasoning on top and then toss them on your one-star or two-star general. Here at MAK, we love to shop local, there is nothing quite as good as the way you feel after you shop at your local farmer’s market and here’s why you should too!
When you walk into a grocery store, it’s often overwhelming the amount of produce that’s available to you. You can get squash varieties in early spring and mangos in the middle of winter. The ability to purchase all types of fruits and vegetables all season long is quite a feat of modern agriculture. The problem is, many people don’t see the process of how those bananas get all the way from the Caribbean to your fruit bowl in Iowa.
Large agricultural corporations grow produce in mass quantities, with their goal being to maximize the yield of each crop rotation. In order to do that, these corporations often use GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, waxing, and gassing. These chemicals and processes can be very harmful to both the environment and your health. In fact, the CDC ran a report from 2007-2011 in 12 states which recorded the number of pesticide-related illnesses. They found that there were over 2,000 reported cases in the span of four years, which isn’t even counting cases in the remaining 38 states across the U.S.
Aside from the potential health risks, mass-produced produce can also negatively impact the environment. I’m sure you’ve seen a truck with a huge grocery store decal on the side while cruising down the highway. In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen them on multiple occasions. The reason why you see those trucks so often is because there are thousands of them traveling all across the United States every single day. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), freight movement (which also includes air and water-based transport) currently accounts for 16 percent of all corporate greenhouse gas emissions. The more goods that need to be shipped, the more harmful gasses are released into the atmosphere.
Now before you get upset with us for telling you not to shop at grocery stores, we want to let you know that’s not the message we’re trying to send. We understand that there are certain specialty items which can only be purchased at an actual grocery store. Many of us here at MAK frequent our local grocery stores as well. The point we’re trying to make here isn’t to completely stop shopping at chain grocery stores, but rather to try and buy as many goods as you can (especially produce) locally to help cut down on the number of items large grocery stores need to ship.
The produce found at farmer’s markets is usually pretty affordable since the farmers don’t have to factor in shipping costs.* You’ll also get a lot more transparency in how the produce you’re purchasing was grown since you can ask the farmers directly about their process. Most farmers will be more than happy to share information with you. In fact, they may chat your ear off for hours about it! Going to a farmer’s market simply allows you to do your grocery shopping with the comforting feeling of knowing the food was grown just a few hours or even minutes from where you live.
*Important Note: Not all vendors at farmer’s markets sell food that is sourced locally. Some may sell wholesale goods that have been shipped from various locations. Don’t hesitate to ask a vendor where they source their produce from if you’re unsure.
When produce is grown locally, it’s usually picked at least 48 hours before selling. This is great news for a MAK Grill owner because the fresher the veggies, the better they’ll taste smoked up on your MAK! Also, certain climates are better for growing different types of fruits and vegetables. Things such as soil quality, precipitation levels, helpful and harmful critters, sun intensity, etc. can make or break the quality and yield of your crops. It’s always a good idea to do some research before attending a local farmer’s market to see what crops are native to your area. You’ll also want to do some research into when each crop is harvested. Certain types of produce are best during certain seasons. It’s usually pretty easy to tell which fruits and vegetables are in season due to their abundance at the market.
You may also see more variety in the growing method. There may be five separate stands offering tomatoes, but each one looks and tastes a little different. This variety could be due to farmers using different types of heirloom seeds (seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation) or they may just be practicing different growing techniques. Either way, it’s fun to explore all the different varieties and maybe even taste test a few!
There’s no better feeling than giving back to the place you call home. One of the absolute best ways to do that is to give back to your local economy. How do you do that? You guessed it, shop local! Farmer’s markets are a great way to support local farmers by paying them directly for their produce.
Agriculture is a humongous industry. If you ever drive cross country or look down when you’re in an airplane, you’ll immediately notice the vast amount of land dedicated to farming. You’d think that farmers must be doing pretty well since there are so many people to feed. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Studies suggest that there has been a loss of over 5 million farms since 1935. The thing that many people don’t realize, is that those large agricultural corporations mentioned above, are making it harder and harder for local farmers to make a living. These farmers are contracted under these agribusinesses to produce a certain type and amount of produce. According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI), it’s common for these contracted farmers to be compensated for the actual goods produced, but not for the equipment or labor required to produce them. The federal government has some price support programs to help certain agricultural producers weather the ups and downs of commodities markets, but it can still be very financially straining.
One of our values at MAK is to support hard-working Americans. Out of all the reasons to shop local, this one really hits home for us. We strongly support local farmers and thank them for the countless hours of hard work and labor they put into providing our families with fresh produce. We hope you’ll join us in our support for these unsung American heroes.
“Our deep respect for the land and its harvest is the legacy of generations of farmers who put food on our tables, preserved our landscape, and inspired us with a powerful work ethic.”
– James H. Douglas, Jr.
Last but certainly not least, if you shop at your local farmer’s market it simply makes the grocery shopping experience A LOT more enjoyable. Whether you’re in dire need of fresh produce or not, sometimes it’s nice to just get outside and enjoy the sunshine. You can bring a few friends along or the whole family! Farmer’s markets can be a wonderful social outing or a learning opportunity for your kids on where their food actually comes from. You may also be able to collect a few tips about how to start your own backyard garden as just another way to fuel your grilling habits.