An Argument for Farmers' Markets
Booths lined up in the
streets like books on a shelf, the sound of laughter and shoes on pavement, the
smell of fruit pies being sold at the end of the row. Growing up, going to the
farmer’s market in the town where my grandma lived was an occasion to look
forward to. The entire experience felt magical to me, like there was some
quality that farmer’s markets had that nothing else did. I adored examining all
fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and other produce, purchasing lunch from a booth
that was cooking stir-fry in a giant wok and selling it in those Chinese
takeout boxes, and trying to decide which homemade jewelry booth to spend my
birthday money at.
I was shocked when I learned
that farmer’s markets were becoming a thing of the past, because how can anyone
not love them? As I did my research, though, I discovered that the positive
aspects of shopping at a farmer’s market were much more abundant than childhood
nostalgia. As it turns out, shopping at farmer’s markets is good for the
community, the environment, the economy, and you.
One of the great things about
farmer’s markets is how beneficial they are for the local economy. Common sense
seems to dictate that commercial grocery stores such as Walmart or Target are
far better because of the jobs that they create, and while this is a huge plus
of having a commercial grocery store, farmer’s markets can boost the local
economy as well! Wetherbee (1999) emphasizes that, in addition to all the other
benefits of shopping at a farmer’s market, they “enable consumers to support
local businesses” (p. 34). Supporting local businesses not only includes the
businesses in town, but also the small ranches and farms within your community.
As someone who grew up on a
ranch, I know personally just how important it is to support local ranchers
instead of buying from commercial grocery stores. When members of our family
purchase beef directly from us, they get their pick of cuts of meat, and they
decide the amount. This also helps our ranch with stability, as we know for
sure that we can sell our beef for a set price, whereas selling it to
commercial stores can vary wildly depending on how much they need and how the
cattle market looks. It is so important to “support the grower rather than a
middleman,” stated Organic Gardening
magazine (“Local Favorites,” 2009, p. 15). This would not even be a problem if
commercial grocery stores were stocked by local farmers and ranchers, but most
of the time, they are stocked by commercial farms and ranches. More often than
not, stores like Walmart put small farms and ranches at serious disadvantages,
and can even cause them to go bankrupt (Conniff, 2015). It is vital to support
the small businesses in your local economy, because if you don’t, there might
not be much of a local economy left to support.
About eight years ago, my
small town decided to put on a farmer’s market. It was advertised that it would
be held in the gym, and small businesses, like local boutiques and distributors
for Multi-Level Marketing businesses (MLMs), and farms could rent out a booth,
and people could walk around the booths and shop, eat, and have fun. The goal
was that the rent and the money made by the concession stand would go to the
Mullen Girl Scouts, my Girl Scout troop, and the small businesses would make a
substantial profit. I vividly remember thinking that this was going to be a
colossal waste of time when my troop leader pitched the idea to us. I thought I
knew about every business in Mullen, and who would want to come to an event
when you could just stroll down Main street and hit them all?
The day of the farmer’s
market came, and my mom dropped me off at the gym kicking and screaming because
of the work I was dreading. I walked through the doors, and my jaw dropped. I
observed that, instead of the ten booths I insisted would be standing alone,
there were over forty booths lined up around the painted boundary lines.
Surprised, I saw lots of people I never knew had small businesses; the nice
lady from church was selling crocheted potholders and embroidered tea towels, a
little girl in the grade below me was selling socks and t-shirts she tie-dyed
with her dad, and my neighbor was selling homemade fishing lures.
I reluctantly took my place
behind the counter, eager to complete my shift, no longer dreaming of leaving,
but of exploring the booths in front of me. When I was finally done with my
shift, my friends and I wandered around the booths, gazing at feather earrings,
fresh bread and pastries, hand-carved chess sets, knitted clothes, and
everything in between. I had never dreamed there were that many small
businesses in my town of four hundred people. I certainly never thought that
something as simple as a farmer’s market could be so beneficial to so many
Another compelling reason to
shop at farmer’s markets is to lessen your carbon footprint. It isn’t any
secret that with the sheer amount of single use plastics employed by commercial
grocery stores, they care little for the environment and the planet they are
on. The same goes for online shopping! Temming (2020) explains that the
emissions caused by packaging for local shops is less than half of that of
commercial grocery stores or e-shopping (p. 5). This really cannot come as a
surprise to anyone who has experienced online shopping, which, in 2022, is
almost everyone. We have all met the UPS deliverer at the door, excited to open
the item we were waiting for, and dug through one, two, even three layers of
plastic that goes straight to the garbage can the moment it escapes its
cardboard home. It seems unnecessary, we think to ourselves, but oh well. That
is just the way the world works, right? Much like most things we just accept
because of ‘the way it is,’ there is a very simple fix to reduce the amount of
single use plastics that are hand-delivered to our doors: shopping locally at
farmer’s markets. Farmer’s markets do not necessarily have to package with
plastics, because the items being sold are not ever being shipped. Rather, they
are handed directly to the customer.
A significant example of this
is a farmer’s market on Aksarben in Omaha, Nebraska. The last time I went
there, they had a challenge to their vendors to see who can be the most
sustainable in their packaging. This results in purchasing necklaces in little
velvet bags, putting your cardboard food container in the recycling bins
located along every street, and buying cloth bags made from recycled t-shirts.
My personal favorite of these things is buying a lemonade from Just Bright, and
receiving my drink in a reusable plastic cup in the shape of a light bulb. The
bottom of the cup even has lights that come in different colors! This clearly
shows that not only do farmer’s markets care about sustainability, but they do
it in a way that is fun and interesting.
Another way farmer’s markets
can cut down on your plastic usage are the things they sell! Almost every
farmer’s market I have ever been to has sold reusable bags, but it certainly
doesn’t stop there. Some of the sustainable products I have seen have been
really creative. Some vendors sell cloth soaked in beeswax that can replace
Saran Wrap entirely. I own a travel case with bamboo utensils and metal straws,
so I don’t have to use plastic silverware, which I bought at a farmer’s market.
A personal favorite of mine is a plant sold in a pot that dissolves into the
soil, so you just stick the whole thing into the ground and water like normal!
If you want to find a way to lessen your single use plastic consumption, go to
a farmer’s market!
Despite being the most well
known, cutting down on single use plastics is not the only way to lessen your
carbon footprint. Shopping at farmer’s markets greatly reduces the risks of
additives, pesticides, processing, and any other unnecessary chemical being in
and on the food products being purchased. In short, the produce is more
organic. In a study by the Public Library of Science, Adanacioglu (2021) found
that the most loyal group of consumers to farmer’s markets were the “conscious
consumers,” or the group of consumers most concerned with food safety and
absence of chemicals. According to this study, farmer’s markets come out
victorious to commercial grocery stores in terms of quality and freshness (p.
1-17). It was found that people who shop at farmer’s markets have a better
understanding of ‘good food choices,’ or food that is higher in nutritional
value, and better for you in general (Connell et al., 2008).
The absence of these
chemicals from your food is more important than you could ever imagine. Interdisciplinary Toxicology (2009), a
scientific journal, reported that pesticide poisoning is the cause of over one
million deaths and numerous chronic diseases a year. Moreover, it is toxic to
the animals who depend on insects for food, who eat the poisoned bugs and then
in turn, also die. Pesticides also contaminate the soil, and kill plants,
animals, and insects that were not intended to be poisoned. These chemicals
even kill fish, as runoff from commercial farms gets into the groundwater,
lakes, rivers, and streams. This contaminates the drinking water of everyone
who depends on these sources (Aktar et al., 2009). Smaller farms do not employ
the usage of chemicals and pesticides, maybe not because of the environment,
but they are saving it nonetheless.
If helping the economy and
saving the environment don’t provide enough incentive to shop at local farmer’s
markets, it is also a way to bring your community closer together. Something
about farmer’s markets promotes speaking to those around you in a way that
commercial grocery stores never do. Commercial grocery stores boast efficiency
in their shopping, which can be really convenient, but they do not really help
in terms of getting to know the community you live in or the people with whom
you share a neighborhood. Although an efficient in and out Walmart may be a lot
quicker, sometimes in life we as people can benefit from slowing everything
down. It feels like everyone is rushing to the next place and the next task.
Farmer’s markets are the
perfect places to just take a minute to decelerate in a world where it has been
demanded that we keep going as quickly as possible for as long as you can. In
an article for Parks and Recreation magazine,
author Kevin Roth (2019) describes farmer’s markets as “a place to bring
family, friends and neighbors together through education, entertainment and
community engagement”(p. 14). In short, he argues that farmer’s markets are a
place where a community can come together. He provides statistics stating that
62% of farmer’s markets have cultural events, and 38% offer learning
opportunities. Roth (2019) goes on to outline the vitality of the farmer’s
market, labeling them a ‘staple’ for small towns. Whilst his article focuses
mainly on the benefits for the community, Roth’s article supports several of
the points in this essay; he touches on how farmer’s markets boost local
economies, they are more eco-friendly, and how they provide a wide variety of
fresh and organic foods, which promotes a healthier lifestyle.
I personally have been to a
lot of different farmer’s markets, but one that stood out to me was in Kansas
City, Kansas while I was visiting family; my one request was that we go to a
farmer’s market on Sunday morning. We googled some locations, and ended up at a
little recreation center. The courtyard outside was stuffed with booths, curling
around the perimeter of a little grassy area with a large crowd accumulating
around it. My family and I made a lap around the booths, perusing the fresh
baked goods, homegrown produce, and homemade beaded earrings and bracelets, and we stopped to
wait in line at a little kiosk selling bags of pumpkin bagels. Disinterested, I wandered over to the
crowd, puzzling over what could possibly be so interesting. This particular
farmer’s market had a weekly block-car derby, but instead of making cars out of
blocks of wood down a ramp, they were crafted from various produce. Enraptured,
I watched people race squashes covered in glittery stickers versus a potato
with a large pinwheel fastened to the top. Children no older than two years old
would toddle up to the sponsors to present their car, and proud parents would
cheer as their kid’s cucumber truck crossed the finish line. I found myself
engrossed in the event, making mental bets on which car would win, high-fiving
and congratulating victorious strangers. It was touching to see a group of
friends, families, and strangers being brought together by nothing more than a
local farmer’s market promoting zucchinis with wheels.
The final and arguably most
important reason to shop at farmer’s markets is how valuable they are for your
health and eating habits. As mentioned earlier in this essay, smaller farms
typically forego the usage of chemicals and pesticides, which cause cancer,
chronic illness, and even death. In addition, produce at farmer’s markets is
fresher, more likely to be organic, and better quality than that in a
commercial grocery store, which likely rode on a truck for several hours, and
then sat in the back, possibly for days, before ever seeing the shelves. One of
the biggest ways shopping at farmer’s markets can promote a healthier diet is
the lack of junk food (Colman, 2018). It is so easy to just pick up a frozen
pizza or some ramen noodles when you go to Whole Foods, but those things are
usually never sold at farmer’s markets. That is not to say that the markets
don't still sell a variety of foods. I have seen everything from homemade
pasta, baked breads, oven-ready homemade enchiladas, tomato and pesto sauces,
smoothie kits, and everything else you could think of. While that means the
groceries you buy at a farmer’s market require more effort in the kitchen, the
result is a delicious and nutritious meal that you and your body love.
Those that know me personally
know about my deep love of cooking. Recently I have been obsessed with making
homemade pasta. I had already made attempts at regular spaghetti, fettuccine,
and three cheese ravioli when I visited a farmer’s market in Lenexa, Kansas. As
I wandered around the booths, I spotted a homemade pasta stand at the end of
one of the rows. We made our way over, and while my family browsed the wide
array of pasta types, I worked my courage up to ask the vendor some questions.
I noticed he was selling garlic infused linguine, along with multiple other
varieties of infused pasta. I tentatively told him about my latest endeavors
into making pasta, and asked him how to infuse my dough with other foods and
flavors. I worried that he wouldn’t want to tell me, given that that was how he
was making money. To my surprise, he seemed pleased with my questions. He
walked me through the steps, and gave me some tips on how to make my noodles
more flavorful and tender. We ended up purchasing three or four bags from him,
and he gave me an extra bag with a wink and a smile. The pasta we purchased
from him, paired with pesto from another booth we had come across that day, was
absolutely decadent. Every time I make pasta now, I think of his delicious food
and the kindness he treated me with. In my opinion, that’s not the kind of
interaction you can have at a Sam’s Club.
One of the underrated health
benefits of farmer’s markets are as simple as walking around in the fresh air.
It can be difficult to carve a chunk of your valuable time out for exercise and
spending time outdoors. Shopping at farmer’s markets combines those things; you
also get to go grocery shopping! Author Sarah Mahoney (2007) lets us know that
in her studies, she has found that interaction with nature “reduces depression,
promotes healing, sparks creativity, and even increases life expectancy” (p.
193). It has also been proven that fresh air promotes deeper breathing,
bringing more oxygen to your cells and brain. The amount of oxygen being
received by the brain vastly impacts that amount of serotonin, or the chemical
that makes you happy, you are able to produce. More oxygen equals more
serotonin. Going on walks also improves blood flow, joint movement, and mood.
As someone who is extremely intimidated by the thought of going to the gym to
get my exercise, I would much rather go to a farmer’s market to go on my walks,
get some fresh air, and save the economy, community, and environment all at
once. Think about all the time I am saving, and I get to enjoy myself!
Last year, while visiting my
grandparents over Thanksgiving, my whole extended family, who all insist on
family walks every time we get together, decided this walk would be to the
farmer’s market in the next neighborhood over. We made our way to the farmer’s
market, and looked around. It was late in the season, so there wasn’t really a
wide variety of produce anymore, but there were plenty of other booths to look
at. There were old ladies selling knitted mittens and hats, a man selling
beautiful carved wooden figures, a woman selling Pampered Chef, and much more.
After we had made our purchases, we saw a basketball hoop across the park, and
some basketballs for public use. It was a beautiful day, and after careful
deliberation of whether grandma would kill us for being late for lunch, we
decided to play a short game. We were matched up cousins versus our parents, and
we played for almost two hours. We yelled, laughed, ran, jumped, and had an
amazing time. By the time we were walking back to the house, we were all sweaty
faced and rosy cheeked. That was one of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving,
and we probably would have never done anything like that if we hadn’t already
been at the park for the farmer’s market.
If you still have doubts or
reservations about why shopping at a farmer’s market is so much better than
shopping at a commercial grocery store, allow me to address some of your
potential questions and arguments. If your main concern is that produce at
farmer’s markets can be more expensive than that of commercial grocery stores,
remember that you are paying for better quality, and you’re investing your money
into your local community. The produce at farmer’s markets is fresher, more
organic, and you get the moral satisfaction of knowing where your food is
coming from and what is in it (Leiper, & Clarke-Sather, 2017).
Maybe you are wondering what
you’re supposed to do in the winter months when farmer’s markets aren’t open.
This is a very reasonable concern, and I am usually very sad when farmer’s
markets close for the season. But the fact that they aren’t open all year round
is only more incentive to shop at them when you can! Take advantage of all the
pros of shopping at farmer’s markets while you can, so you don’t get sick of
eating the same mediocre Walmart produce all year long. If you’re really
worried about the cold season, remember that shopping locally whenever you
possibly can will bring a lot of the same benefits that shopping at the
farmer’s markets brings you.
A common argument for people
in rural areas is that there isn’t a farmer’s market close. I’m not suggesting
that people drive 45 minutes every week to get their groceries at a farmer’s
market instead of their local grocery store. That would be unreasonable. Just
do your best to remember to visit one when you go to bigger towns and cities. I
live an hour and a half away from the closest Walmart, so I understand the
struggles of living in small towns. At the end of the day, doing your best to
go to a farmer’s market when you can is still going to be better for you than
always shopping at commercial grocery stores.
Now we have gone through lots
of information, and a few anecdotes, about how shopping at farmer’s markets is
good for the community, the environment, the economy, and you. In the very
beginning of this essay, I revealed that when I was little, I thought farmer’s
markets were somehow magical, and I still believe that to this day. If feelings
of pure excitement, anticipation, togetherness, and joy aren’t magic, I’m not
sure what is. Farmer’s markets were very special to me, long before I knew just
how beneficial they were to people who shop at them, the people who work at
them, and the communities that they are in. They have something for everyone
who goes to them, and it is fun for the whole family. It’s a great opportunity
to, as the Mullen Farmer’s Market motto says, “put your money where your heart
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