Farmers markets are a great option for fresh, local produce, humanely raised meats and eggs, as well as other artisanal picks like pistachio-stuffed olives and homemade bread. In fact, you can pick up everything you need to create a complete meal at your farmers market, plus a bouquet of flowers to adorn your dinner table.
What’s more, it’s easier to develop a relationship with the vendors you see each week. “Producers that become friends will look out for you, possibly pick or hold special items including the last one of a hot seller,” says Sloane Bergien, president of the Wyoming Farmer’s Marketing Association.
Here, five reasons you should skip the grocery store and stroll the local stalls instead:
Fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets often sit on trucks for a week as they’re driven through several time zones; they’re picked well before they ripen so they can survive the ride. But locally grown items are harvested within 24 hours of your purchase, at the peak of ripeness, when they’re bursting with nutrients.
“Locally grown produce is fresher and therefore more nutritious than produce trucked in from across the country or from around the globe,” says Kim Hutchinson, PhD, MBA, executive director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association. “Produce raised and sold locally is grown for flavor and nutrition, rather than for its ability to travel across the country and sit in a warehouse.”
In Wyoming, the freshly picked sweet cherries are bursting with flavor. In Virginia, the peaches in the farmer’s stall were likely picked that morning. And in Maine, the wild blueberries contain twice as many antioxidants as conventional blueberries sold at grocery stores.
“Fruits and vegetables are only available when they’re in season, unless farmers or other food entrepreneurs are processing them into shelf-stable products,” says Jimmy DeBiasi, director of programs for the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.
Some turn apples into cider, while others pickle cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. You can also find green-hued pasta made with spinach or basil. These nutritious creations extend the shelf life of locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, and they allow you to experience more flavors.
At the farmers market, you’ll likely see unfamiliar yet appealing sizes, shapes and colors that would be missing from the traditional grocery store shelves. For example, in Colorado, look for cranberry-and-white-speckled Anasazi beans. In Maine, farmers bring rare apple varieties that aren’t sold in supermarkets. And in New York, the barrels of potatoes are brimming with blue fingerling varieties.
There is a wide array of animal- and plant-based protein options available at farmers markets nationwide. In Virginia, depending on your location, you may find Chesapeake Bay blue crab, fresh-grown peanuts or Virginia ham. In Maine, you’ll find everything from lobsters and oysters to smokehouse sausages and gourmet cheeses. And in New York, farm-fresh meat may mean buffalo, goat and rabbit, in addition to beef, chicken and pork.
Whether it’s the quinoa that thrives in Wyoming’s tough growing conditions, heirloom tomatoes that have been grown by a family for generations or gourmet mushrooms cultivated in a rustic barn, farmers love telling you how their produce got to the market.
“Growers love to talk about their food and will share their stories, offer their favorite recipes and give hints and tips about their foods,” says Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation of New York. “You can ask questions of the farmer that will help you to feel comfortable with the foods you are feeding your family.”