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During the 1930s, in the middle of the Great Depression, two farmers from Southern California came up with an idea. They wanted to create a meeting place where local farmers could sell their fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products. So a dozen or so farmers parked on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax and sold their food out of the beds of their pickup trucks. Within months, permanent stalls were being set up and the Fall Festival at the Farmer’s Market was celebrated.

Today, the iconic Clock Tower that marked this space, where people came by the hundreds to shop for food, now sits on top of Starbuck’s  with the words “An Idea.” This “idea” brought the freshest produce to a community while supporting local farmers and agriculture.  Farmer’s Markets are much more than grocery shopping – they’re educational encounters, social gatherings, and a cornerstone of American culture and health. Every August, the USDA celebrates National Farmer’s Market Week to continue a tradition that promotes fresh, in-season produce, healthy eating, eco-consciousness, and community.

Many people believe that Farmer’s Markets are expensive, with goods unattainable for families in vulnerable situations. In fact, many products cost the same or less than those found in the grocery store. Buying in-season products is not only healthier but less expensive than buying strawberries in December in the supermarket. The USDA has developed a program that provides assistance and education through the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).

As a registered dietitian, I shop every week at my local farmer’s market. There are good, elementary reasons for which shopping in Farmer’s Markets is healthier for us all:

  • Variety! Farmer’s Markets offer in-season products, most of which you won’t find in a regular grocery store: red carrots, lemon cucumbers, green garlic, purple cauliflower, flavored honey, herbs and spices – a beautiful array of flavors and colors that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fresh, fresh, fresh flavor! As a registered dietitian, I always tell my clients to fill their plates with color and variety – it’s the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
  • Eco and animal-friendly foods: The foods you buy at a farmer’s market aren’t being shipped around the world. Moreover, many of the meats and dairy products you purchase come from farmers that don’t use antibiotics or hormones – farmers who treat their animals humanely. Knowing where our food comes from is an important piece to our health.
  • Eating clean: At a farmer’s market,  you get the unique opportunity to talk to farmers who produce your food products. Knowing how your food has been raised, whether it’s been fertilized or treated with hormones – all of this information is available when you go to a farmer’s market. Plus, many post profiles and information about farm locations.
  • Taste:  Take a bite out of a freshly-picked tomato. Taste it. Savor it. That’s what real food tastes like.
  • Supporting local farmers: What better way to support your community than buying from families that produce food right next door? Local farmers provide nourishing food that is in-season, fresher and healthier than you can get in other places. And you support local families. It’s a win-win!
  • Recipes and cooking tips: The last time I went to a farmer’s market, I bought flowers for my salad. They were spicy, colorful petals I wouldn’t have dared purchase at the grocery store because I wouldn’t have known what to do with them. The farmers in the markets are often great cooks that love to share advice on how to cook what they bring to sell.
  • Cost:  Compare prices and surprise yourself with how reasonable the market is. Moreover, if you’re looking for organic foods, you can’t beat the farmer’s market prices. Eating healthy should be a priority, not a luxury. And eating in-season foods can give you more variety, less hormones and fertilizers, and better health. I always tell my clients, eating healthy saves a lot of money in doctor’s visits, medication and more.

Don’t be intimidated by the unique foods. Talk to the farmers. Get to know them and ask them, “What do I do with this?”  Going to your local farmer’s market is an opportunity to eat better, healthier, and connect with your community, all while grocery shopping. What was once a chore becomes an outing!

Check out the NYC Green Market