Be a locavore — support local farmers markets

The term “local food” is certainly not an unfamiliar one. I hear a lot of talk these days about eating locally. And I know several people who try to eat locally, whenever possible, for a number of good reasons.

We live in an age of global markets, with most of us buying our food from chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets. We seldom think about where our food comes from or how it was grown or processed.

Before globalization, the foods people ate were all local and seasonal. Today the food we eat is grown, more often than not, on large industrial farms, before being shipped across the country, or from central or South America or overseas to huge distribution centers, where it is sorted, packaged, and processed before it is trucked to the retailers. Of course, this means that a remarkable diversity of food is available all year round, for consumers who can to afford to buy it.

Unfortunately, the environmental consequences of food globalization, such as the ecological impacts that result from large-scale production of cropping food in monocultures with intensive use of pesticides and the air pollution resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances, which contributes to global warming, aren’t so obvious. Nor are the impacts food globalization has on our health (31.8 percent of American adults are now considered clinically obese) and local communities, where family farms and dollars that might otherwise remain in the area have been and continue to be lost.

I’ve heard people who appreciate or are committed to eating food that is grown or produced locally refer to themselves as locavores; a term which originated in 2005, in an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle. But the definition of “local” is often somewhat vague. Some people consider food from the Albany and Syracuse regions or from Vermont (and beyond) local. Their concerns have more to do with sustainability than immediate proximity to home. They buy from sellers that they know or that they have a relationship with and/or they buy products from companies that they know are, or at least claim to be, producing products in ways that are sustainable.

More resolute locavores, however, support neighbors and friends from within their town or from nearby. These folks tend to grow at least some of their own food, to shop at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, or to join their neighbors’ Community Supported Agriculture. CSA participants typically buy a membership (or “share”) in a local CSA farm, which provides some additional seed money, if you will, for the grower. In return, sponsoring members receive weekly portions of the produce grown and/or other products produced by the CSA farm throughout the season (i.e. honey, maple syrup, eggs, cheese, meats, jams and jellies).

Locavores will also purchase only locally grown starter plants for their gardens, as well as locally produced non-food agricultural products, such as garden perennials, cut flowers, or wool. Of course, there are some foods that locavores make exceptions for; coffee, teas, and spices for example. Still, many will try to buy from local coffee roasters and/or spice importers.

As growing numbers of North Country consumers demand better tasting food with less risk, small-scale sustainable farming operations have been ‘cropping up’ across the region to meet the demand. At the same time, the number and popularity of farmer’s markets in our neck of the woods has doubled and redoubled, over the past 10 years.

Whether you’re an omnivore, a carnivore, an herbivore, or a locavore, you can benefit greatly by shopping at local farmers markets. For starters, you’ll be able to select some of the freshest and the best tasting local produce that money can buy. In recent weeks, area markets have offered locally grown sweet, delicious asparagus, beautiful, tangy rhubarb, tender, young greens, tasty radishes, delicious alfalfa sprouts, gorgeous bedding plants, appealing grass-fed beef, lamb, and pork, top-quality, mouthwatering baked goods, yummy farmstead cheese curd; even artisan-made body care products. Early strawberries and peas will be available soon; followed by beans, beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs. And the list goes on.

Shopping at your local Farmers’ market allows you to meet and visit with the growers, ask questions and get closer to the sources of locally grown and prepared wholesome, nutritious food. Customers can be confident and feel good about buying home grown food from their neighbors. It’s fun to talk to the folks that grow it. And producers appreciate feedback from their customers.

By shopping at the farmers market you help support the preservation of agricultural land and the knowledge of our agricultural heritage for future generations. And when you shop at the farmers market, you help strengthen our rural economy, too.

Besides, locally grown and prepared foods tastes better and are more nutritious than fruits and vegetables that are picked before they’re ripe and then transported across the continent or halfway around the world.

If you’re looking for ways to shop local, eat fresh, stretch your food dollars, and support local sustainable agriculture, look no further than your local farmers market. When you shop at the farmers market, everybody wins.