During the growing season, farmers markets across the country are teeming with organically-grown produce that you can buy directly from small, local farms.
The grocery store is definitely not the only spot, and certainly not the best spot, to get your fix of organic vegetables!
So let’s explore some benefits of shopping at the farmers market versus the grocery store. And why you might want to buy your veggies at the farmers market this year.
1. Your money goes directly to the farm
When buying produce at the grocery store, the money you spend is dispersed among multiple hands.
- The farmer who grows and harvests the produce
- The importer, if it originated outside the country
- The distributor who finds buyers (ex. grocery stores or wholesalers) for the produce
- The wholesaler who the grocery stores [sometimes] buy the produce from
- The grocery store’s head office
- The local grocery store where the produce was purchased
On the other hand, when you buy produce directly from farms at the farmers market, your money goes straight to the farm. Which means more in their pocket and less/none to third party marketers, handlers and distributers.
2. The farmer receives a fair price for their produce
When you buy produce directly from a farm, it’s the farm that sets the price you pay.
If you buy from the grocery store, the distributer tells the farm what they’ll be paid.
Competition is high, especially for small organic farmers who must now compete with big hydroponic growers for shelf space. All too often, the price those smaller farmers receive is not sustainable.
3. Save money at the farmers market
In my experience, buying organic produce at the farmers market does not cost more than buying organic produce at the grocery store.
Recently, on a random week during the growing season, I compared the cost of what I had bought at the farmers market to the price of similar items at the grocery store. What I found is that I had saved money by shopping at the farmers market.
If you’re already buying organic produce at the grocery store, I’d urge you to check out a local farmers market and compare the quality, taste and price of the food.
If you shop grocery store sales, or go to a discount grocer, there will no doubt be times when organic vegetables cost less at the grocery store. But you may discover that, all things considered, you walk away from the farmers market with more money in your pocket.
4. Farmers market produce is more nutritious
When I buy produce directly from a farm, it was picked the day before I buy it. Then it travels an hour or two from the farm directly to the farmers market.
The produce for sale at the grocery store was picked when it was unripe, days or weeks before it winds up on the grocery store shelf.
After all, it takes time to sort it, pack it, ship it to a warehouse, transport it to grocery stores and get it out on the shelves.
We all know that perfectly ripe produce tastes better and lasts longer, but what you may not know is that freshness impacts the nutritional value of the produce as well.
And there is no shortage of research finding that produce is most nutritious right after it’s picked.
5. Connection and Community
Before I started shopping at farmers markets, I would have told you that cooking was drudgery. It was a chore for sure, and something I no longer enjoyed.
Then one day, a couple months after I started buying produce at the farmers market, I noticed that I was no longer feeling that sense of drudgery. Cooking was once again an experience I really enjoyed.
The change was a result of something so basic – connection.
Our lives have been made convenient to the point that the humanness is removed. It’s done in the name of saving time, money and resources….but, at what cost?
Our lives have been made convenient to the point that the humanness is removed.
I believe that humans need and crave the connectedness that we’ve lost as a result of convenience. Not only connection to each other, but connection to the world around us.
Buying food directly from farmers is the antithesis to this robotic way of living.
And it strips away all the layers of processing and separation between you and the real people who work hard to grow your food.
Snapping leaves off a head of lettuce, gently rinsing then patting them dry, does take extra time. But, this task is a reminder that I’m eating whole food grown in healthy soil.
I could buy a bag of pre-washed mixed lettuce and some peeled and cut veggies, then toss them with store-bought salad dressing. That would be a faster way to make salad, but it would also remove any sense of connection to where that food really came from.
6. Farm fresh produce isn’t processed
At most, the veggies you buy at the farmers market received a rinse in water after they were harvested and before being put out for sale.
On the other hand:
- Pre-washed bags of grocery store lettuce were bathed in a solution of water and chlorine.
- Grocery store apples (and many other fruits and vegetables) were coated in food grade wax to prevent bruises and extend their life.
- Much of the produce was sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals after they were picked, to stop mold from growing and delay spoilage.
7. Support local farmers/the local economy
Like most of us, there are certain times of the year when I have to shop at the grocery store if I want vegetables on my plate. But I aim to keep that window as short as possible.
I know that when I shop at the grocery store, I’m supporting a centralized, corporate version of agriculture that is rarely ‘local’. In other words, the industrialized food system created over the last 100 years to feed the masses who were moving off farms and into urban areas.
When I buy directly from farms at the farmers market, my money supports a local farm and stays in the community. There is no lack of transparency about where my food comes from.
8. The farmers market is an experience
Farmers markets are pretty inviting and pleasant places to be, aren’t they? Humans coming together with a shared purpose, enjoying fresh air, sunshine and casual conversation about what they’re going to make for dinner with the veggies in their bag.
It’s a family outing that many Americans look forward to. Who would say that about taking their kids to the grocery store?
On the other hand, the farmers market is a fun thing to do. It’s a place we take out of town visitors, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning and an educational opportunity for the kids.
The farmers market is an experience, not just a chore. 🙂
FAQ: Shopping at the Farmers Market
Is buying from the farmers market more expensive than the grocery store?
In my experience, buying organic produce from the farmers market does not cost more than the grocery store. Scroll up to #6. Save money at the farmers market to read about the price comparison I did comparing farmers market prices to grocery store prices.
Does farmers market produce spoil quickly?
Most of the produce I buy at the farmers market lasts in my fridge for two weeks until I’ve eaten it all and head back to buy more. Certainly some delicate veggies such as swiss chard, certain herbs, spinach and butter lettuce don’t make it through the full two weeks, but I plan accordingly and eat those first.
During the off season when I have to buy more organic produce at the grocery store, I notice that it spoils faster than the farmers market produce I’m used to. I’m pretty sure this is because that grocery store produce was already at least a few days old when I bought it. Whereas the farmers market produce was picked the day before.
As for conventional produce, I recently learned that non-organic produce is often sprayed with chemicals after harvest, to inhibit mold growth and slow ripening. So if you’re seeking out fresh produce that will last longer, consider how far you’re willing to go for that “feature”.
How can I find farmers markets near me?
I’ve been impressed by the thoroughness of the National Farmers Market Directory and recommend starting your search there.
Google Maps is also a pretty good resource if you search for “farmers market near me”. You’ll just have to weed through a lot of results that are not actually farmers markets.
And before you go, be sure to read my advice about how to spot fake farmers at the farmers market.
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