The popularity of farmers markets cannot be denied. In the last decade, numbers in the United States have increased by the thousands. A recent issue of National Geographic pointed out that New York City now boasts 146 farmers markets, but many towns can claim at least one or a handful. Half of all markets are concentrated in just 12 states, and California’s 759 markets makes it number one. Our growing desire for locally sourced fresh food coupled with a greater awareness of the importance of small, sustainable farms will see this trend continue to grow. I regularly visit markets in my area, and one of my favorite things to do on vacation is visit a local market.
Like many, my disconnect with food sources started at a young age. I grew up in a household where fresh vegetables were never part of dinner. My mother usually cooked meat and potatoes to satisfy my father’s palate. Some variety of canned vegetable would be thrown in as a mere afterthought. On rare occasions, a salad made an appearance. Even less rare were apples and oranges or berries of any kind. I can now acknowledge the healthier aspects of eating the elk hunted by my father, but it would have been nice to discover the joys of fresh food earlier in life!
People often complain about the premium price associated with fresh foods, and yet they regularly splurge on things like $5 coffees or $10 martinis. An hour stroll through the Capital City Public Market and the nearby Boise Farmers Market is an awesome way to plan a meal for Saturday night, not to mention try the abundance of samples. From tasting salsas, cheese curds, spicy nuts, and wines I always manage to find something worth taking home.
Technically, a farmers market only offers foodstuff and is temporary. By contrast, a public market operates year-round in a permanent structure and offers non-food products. When I lived in North Carolina, any visit to Asheville always entailed a trip to the WNC Farmers Market. If my husband and I arrived early enough, we could snag a loaf of French bread. The maker always boasted in a thick French accent how his bread was the best bread a person would ever taste. It was. I can’t say the baguette makers at my local grocery store ever sung the praises of their product with such pride.
We are no longer in tune with the seasonality of food. Supermarkets provide bland produce year round, but anyone who has ever eaten a tomato direct from a garden vine will point out the lackluster allure of commercial varieties. On a recent spring outing in Sante Fe, lettuce and sprouts stole the show. Later, we enjoyed a super-fresh Green Goddess salad at Café Pasqual’s. Restaurants that form their menus on what’s in season continue to grow in popularity as well.
Many markets are located close to other worth attractions. In Missoula, Montana the Farmers Market is within walking distance of the city’s lovingly restored carousel and the man-made kayaking rapids Brenan’s wave. Others, like the market in Boulder, Colorado are nestled in spectacular mountain scenery. No matter the location of the market, it will be unique. A local big box store is anything but unique and not many memories form around our time spent in supermarkets.
A major turning point in my drive to eat fewer processed foods can be attributed to English chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution reality TV show. During a talk with elementary children, he showed pictures of familiar foods such as French fries, pasta, and milk. He then asked the kids to match those foods up with where they came from. The main page of the associated website contains this quote: “20% of kids in Australia think pasta comes from animals.” The show also drove home just how much added sugar and salt are in the foods we buy and in the foods served to children in school lunches.
We can do better when it comes to expecting more from our food. Farmers Markets matter in so many ways beyond putting something healthier in our mouths. They help us be more connected to our food sources and to each other.
How often do you visit famers markets? Which are your favorite? What’s your take on the real food movement?
Time to eat…
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy learning more about Idaho’s Wine Industry. Why not whip up something fresh by trying Susan’s Caprese Salad recipe or Artichoke and Bell Pepper Salad recipe?
Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the images in this post.