“Going green” and “eco-friendly” are just a few of the words describing our current, more environmentally conscious, society. These phrases are encouraging but where does the average person start? Do we have to install solar panels on our roofs or purchase a hybrid car? There are less daunting ways to live a “greener” life and visiting a local farmers’ market is a small step in the right direction. A farmers’ market is a designated place and time where farmers gather to display and sell their goods to the local community. Some operate daily while others are open on a specified day once a week. Around the world weekly market days are a tradition. When traveling, plan to visit the neighborhood market to get an authentic taste of local food and culture. Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity as people begin to see the many benefits of consuming locally grown, farm fresh food. Advantages of Shopping at a Farmers’ Market: Locally grown food is fresher; it hasn’t traveled as far as most supermarket produce. Fresher food means more nutrition and better taste. Produce is often organically grown which means there are more restrictions on pesticide and insecticide use. Livestock is often raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and is usually fed a healthier diet. Farmers’ markets keep money in the local economy and help family farms stay in business. By avoiding long distance shipping, locally grown produce uses less fossil fuel. Farmers’ markets skip the middleman and encourage relationships between consumers and producers. More Than Just Fresh, Locally Grown Food Fruits and vegetables are not the only items found for sale at a farmers’ market. Each market has it’s own unique selection of products for purchase which can include flowers, baked goods, seafood, honey and more. Local artisans and craftsman display jewelry, art and variety of crafts which typically will not be found at the local supermarket. Take some time to find out when your local farmers’ market is happening. There may be more than one in your area so check out the days and times that are most convenient. Consider bringing a reusable shopping bag to carry your fresh purchases home. If the location is close enough, think about walking to the market and saving the transportation cost. Talk to the vendors and get to know them and their products. As consumers become more informed about their food source options they are better able to make healthy, economical, society benefiting choices. This new year it’s simple to begin “going green.” Just start at your local farmer’s market.
Making the Best Health Food Choices for Wellness and the Environment Organic foods are big business, and for good reason: they are safer, easier on the environment, and often more nutritious than their “conventionally grown,” pesticide-laden counterparts. In recent years, however, locally grown produce has become a competitor for organic food, prompting the question: Is local or organic food a better choice for the average consumer? Local and Organic Foods: Definitions Organic meat, produce, and packaged foods are sold with the guarantee of their organic label – a government-regulated certification that says that these foods and their ingredients have been grown without dangerous pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or any other artificial agents. Local produce means foods that have been produced locally, usually by small family farms rather than big agribusiness. Local foods support the local economy and may be fresher or cheaper than foods that have been shipped cross-country or from overseas. Organic Foods and Health Most people buy organic for the sake of their own and their families’ health. Dozens of studies have highlighted that there are very serious risks associated with pesticides, from hormone disruption to birth defects, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Organic foods are free and clear of any chemical additives that might pose a risk to health. Studies show that organic produce has an additional benefit: organic fruits and veggies are often higher in nutrition (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Organic Foods, Local Produce, and the Environment Another important aspect of organic farming is the care taken in preserving the earth’s ability to grow food crops and support health ecosystems. Run-off from pesticides can kill animals and disrupt the food chain near conventional farms, but organic farming doesn’t poison the land. However, organic produce is usually shipped significant distances before being sold – using fossil fuel resources and creating pollution as it travels from farm to table. Local produce avoids this evil if it’s grown, sold, and eaten within a few hours’ drive (or less). The shorter travel distance also means that local produce is fresher – and often less expensive – than fruit and veggies that are grown across the country. Local vs. Organic and the Impact on Local Economies Proponents of local food believe in supporting “local economies” by buying from your neighborhood strawberry farmer instead of an organic strawberry giant down in California. The concept of social responsibility plays a big role in the organic vs. local food debate. Finding Food that is Healthy, Local, and Organic Which natural food shopping pick is best for health, budgets, farmers, and the environment? It’s not an easy question to answer. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to enjoy fresh, local, organic produce all at once and all the time. In the real world, it’s sometimes possible to find food that is both (by asking around at farmers’ markets, for instance). Often, though, the choice between local and organic produce is a personal decision based on many factors. Organic food isn’t always available, and neither is local food (especially if you live in a large city). The best anyone can do is learn about the issues and follow his or her own conscience.
Organic food can be very expensive, but there are ways to save money and make a healthy lifestyle easier to maintain. Most of these methods involve dusting off the skills of a previous generation, coupled with some modern conveniences to save a little time! Even a simple staple, such as five pound bag of organic whole wheat flour, can come at a dear price. Ready-to-eat organic foods are both worth every penny and simply not affordable for everyone. There is a solution – one that requires an investment of time and the purchase of some equipment, in order to save money long term. The benefit is the peace of mind that comes from knowing the family eats food that was not soaked in herbicides, pesticides, or strong chemical fertilizers. Buy From Farmers and Make it From Scratch In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative allows local family farms to sell their goods directly to the consumer. This organization has created a state-wide farmer’s market that allows customers to order and pick up food on a monthly basis. Now, remember the price of a five pound bag of organic, whole wheat flour? For a little more than twice that amount, one of the producers in the Oklahoma Food Cooperative sells a twenty-five pound bucket of wheat berries. An electric grinder quickly pays for itself and over time reduces the cost of organic flour (compared to the store price) by more than half. With a little more labor, some of that wheat flour can be white flour instead, if light, flaky pastries happen to be on the menu in the near future. Milling flour and baking isn’t for everyone, obviously, despite the savings. The cooperative also sells frozen foods for those that desire local or organic food without needing to learn the mysterious art of cooking it. Buy in Bulk and Preserve Seasonal produce is always cheaper, for both organic and regular food. Look for local farmer’s markets or natural food suppliers to buy fresh, in-season produce. Buy produce by the bushel, if that option is available, and spend a weekend canning or freezing anything that can’t be eaten fresh before it spoils. It can even be a novel and fun experience for children to see how food gets processed. Stocking up for winter on summer’s cheaper prices – as families did for generations before the modern supermarket – can reduce the cost of food significantly for anyone willing to make the time investment. That hard work can also be turned into a source of income. Local food cooperatives will enthusiastically welcome producers of frozen and canned goods. The demand for such items often exceeds supply. To find local coops or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Organic Consumer’s Association websites. Buy Seeds and Plant a Garden Planting a garden is, perhaps, the simplest way to save money on organic food. It requires the most time and effort, but little in the way of actual equipment. It also requires a bit of knowledge about organic growing practices in order to keep from resorting to the rows of insecticides and other chemicals that line the shelves of the local hardware store. Gardening used in combination with canning and freezing saves the most money of all. If the amount of time required to keep up with a garden seems daunting, keep in mind that healthy food isn’t the only benefit. Planting and weeding burns quite a few calories – so that flaky pastry on the menu can be tasty and guilt-free.