Monday, June 16, 2014

Keeping it Fresh: Farmers Markets

If this is what you think of when you think of farmers markets…
…you are only partially right. I have some breaking news for you though; farmers markets aren’t just for hippies anymore! Regular people go to them as well! To some people, farmers markets might be a little intimidating because it is a different experience than shopping at your local grocery store. Fear not though, I have decided to enlighten you all on farmers markets for this weeks blog! 

What is a farmers market?
In simple terms, a farmers market is a place where farmers sell their products directly to consumers. (Note: I said consumers not just hippies, but more on that later) At this point you might be envisioning a good ole boy farmer in a plaid shirt and overhauls with a straw hat on talking to you about his tomatoes and cows, but this is usually not the case. Given the explosion of local food business, its not just farmers selling their tomatoes or beef. Yes, there are obviously a lot of fruits and veggies to be found at farmers markets, but you can also find meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, jams, butter, peanut butter, salsa, mustard, honey, baked goods, pasta, ice cream, flowers, etc.     

Along with this increased variety of products, you will also find that sometimes the produce vendors are not the growers, but retailers. (Read: The people do not grow the fruits and veggies, they buy them and then resell them at the market). Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily but it can be a little tricky. Occasionally, the vendor will sell items that are not local, so if you want to ensure the food you get is local just ask them or look for signage indicating such. One easy way to spot a retailer is if they are selling items, such as pineapple and bananas, which do not grow in North Carolina or pretty much all other US states for that matter, they require a tropical environment to grow.

Why should I go to a farmers market?
Obviously to see the hippies and earn some hipster street cred! On a more serious note, by shopping at the farmers markets it helps support the local economy and not some huge factory farm in Mexico. Another reason is because the products are fresher and taste better; they weren’t grown in Mexico, shipped to the US, and sitting on a grocery store shelf for weeks. Case in point: tomatoes. You will only find tomatoes grown in North Carolina during the summer when they reach their peek ripeness. Typically, the produce is harvested a day or so before it is sold at the market and ends up on your table. Compare that to tomatoes found at grocery stores. To start with, they are picked before they are ripe so they are able to hold up from the journey to the field to the grocery store. This inhibits some of the flavor, vitamins, and minerals from fully developing. They than go through a ripening process that forces them to ripen, but it only really turns the green tomatoes red. Local tomatoes and grocery store tomatoes may look the same and all but the taste is night and day.

The last reason I will talk about as to why its beneficial to shop at farmers markets is that it is more environmentally friendly. Without getting on a soapbox on this one, there is less gas used to transport the products and carbon dioxide emissions and less packaging.

If you got bored halfway through reading the above section and skipped down to the picture, just check out the infographic below for a brief synopsis.

“You keep saying local, but what is local?”
This is where it gets a little ambiguous. There is no set definition of local. Some people say 100 miles, 300 miles, etc. Not that my thoughts rein supreme, in the case of Charlotte I would count local as anything grown in North or South Carolina since a lot of South Carolina farms are actually closer to Charlotte than some North Carolina ones.

“I went to the farmers market and there were no strawberries”
Well, I hate to break it to you but strawberries have a relatively short growing season that lasts from April till about late June. Yes, they may be available at the grocery store year round, but strawberries do not grow year ground in North Carolina. All crops have a season, so if you are not familiar with what’s in season for North Carolina, you might want to check out this chart  so you are not the goof asking the farmer where the watermelons are in February.

“Should I be eating all local food?”
Is Lebron the next Michael Jordan? No!  

Personally, I enjoy bananas, pineapple, coffee, etc and none of them are local. I try my best to hit up the farmers markets and grow some of my own vegetables. I may be a Dietitian but I am still human.

While I have the opportunity, just a PSA. Yes, you can find cookies, muffins, cupcakes, all other sorts of baked goods at farmers markets, but keep in mind that a cookie is still a cookie regardless of where it was made. Yes, it make taste better, but unfortunately it is not any healthier.

Breaking it Down
If this if your reaction to farmers markets...
I would suggest you give it a shot to check it out. Not sure where the closest farmers market is? No worries, I got you. Check out this list of farmers markets in the Charlotte area. 

My second suggestion would be this: Its one thing to go to the farmers market and buy all kinds of fruits and vegetables in your fancy reusable bag, but note that it doesn’t do you any actual good unless you eat them.

If you go check out a farmers market and find that its not your thing, at the very least you might get to listen to some of that “hippy” music and earn some hipster street cred. Well I am off to go stock up on local water at the farmers market. Until next time!

Keep it Fresh,
Keep it Green,


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