My sister came to visit me recently at my home in Los Angeles. She’s always lived in the Boston area and this was her first trip to the west coast in over 20 years. When I found out she was coming, naturally, I began to think of places where I wanted to take her. One of the first things that came to mind was my local Saturday farmers market. Since I’ve lived in my home in Sherman Oaks, my boyfriend and I have been going to our local farmers market to buy our food for the week. It’s something I talk about often when visiting with family. It has turned me into someone who hated to cook into someone who makes her food every day and enjoys better health because of it. Here’s why I think this weekly tradition plays an important role in my overall happiness and well being.
Nothing makes me happier than walking up to the array of pop up tents on a Saturday morning to experience the multi sensational flood of food. The colors, the textures, the aromas, and the tastes of the farmers' goods beat out anything I can find in a grocery store. If it is not certified organic, it is almost always pesticide free. If I am unsure, I simply ask. The farmers are very transparent with their practices and are happy to share how they grow their food.
In many cases, farmer’s have samples of their food so you know how it tastes before you buy it. The food is always fresh, often picked the day before or day of. My microgreens farmer literally cuts the greens fresh before my eyes. The flavor burst in one tiny micro green blows my mind every time I taste it.
Because the food is fresh, it lasts us all week long. I can’t remember the last time I had something spoil or go bad within the week that I bought it. The produce is always seasonal so it is at it’s highest nutrient value and ripeness. That means taste is always at its peak and produce is eaten in the season that it’s grown.
The eggs I buy have the brightest yolks of any I’ve seen. This tells me that the chickens are pasture raised and have a diet of insects, grass, worms, and even mice or small snakes. Eggs laid by pasture-raised chickens have shown to have higher levels of Vitamin E, A, and essential fatty acids, according to a study done at Penn State.
The meats I buy are grass fed and organic. We get a variety of beef, chicken, lamb, and pork. And we get different cuts of the meat than those typically offered in the grocery store. We’re even able to buy soup bones to make homemade bone broth which has numerous health benefits including improved digestion, vibrant skin, and boosts the immune system.
Personalizes the Food Experience
I love the ability to talk to the farmers that grow the food I’m buying. It cultivates an appreciation for the job that they do and the service they provide. It puts me in direct contact with the people who grow or prepare the food. It’s so nice to have a conversation and tell them what I like about their product. Or ask them the best way to store, cook and serve the food. I have tried so many new vegetables that I would never dare to try from a grocery store, mainly because I wouldn't know what to do with it or whether or not I would like it. A great example of this is when a farmer let us try the cruciferous vegetable kohlrabi or German turnip. We loved it and started buying it to eat raw like a carrot stick. The same farmer later shared his recipe for kohlrabi soup which is a super healthy, non-dairy substitute for creamy potato soup. This recipe has become one of our favorites.
Now I’ll often ask the farmers their favorite way to cook the vegetables they sell just to get some new ideas. It’s fun to be able to try new foods and have a friendly interaction with the people who brought it to you.
There is a wonderful sense of community when you return to the same one or two farmers markets each week for a number of years. You get to know the different farmers and food makers. You learn their stories and how they came to be. Our meat farmer, Autonomy Farms, endured a tragic flood that wiped out acres of crops and killed many of their hens in 2017. The community rallied together in the form of donations and crowdsourcing support to help them back on their feet.
Another farmer that makes microgreens, makes home deliveries if you deplete your microgreen supply midweek. She’ll show up at your doorstep and cut fresh micro greens right out of the tray. On another occasion recently, heavy rains canceled the farmer’s market. Mingle’s Cocobrew reached out to her customers to let them know she’ll be at Erewhon, a nearby grocery store, selling her products so they can still get their coconut fix.
There is a whole community of small business owners that are making artisanal, handcrafted, quality food products with the intention of healing and providing exceptional nutritional and health value. Many of them are born from their own need to find higher quality sourced and prepared foods due to health issues and the failing American standard diet. It’s refreshing as a customer to be able to talk to an owner about her product and hear her passion and her knowledge of what she is selling.
We discovered the world’s greatest tasting (no exaggeration!) cashews and pumpkin seeds from a place called Vision Sprouts which sprouts their own nuts and seeds. I used to have trouble digesting cashews but have had no trouble with theirs due to the sprouting process. According to Maria, founder, and owner,
When the living enzyme is retained within the nut, the nutrients become vulnerable to your body, creating more bio availability.
Understanding where our food comes from and what it takes to make it, plays an important part in our overall health and happiness. Building a community with the people who supply our most important commodity lays the foundation for healthy living. Creating friendships and value in the roles we all play in each other’s lives gives meaning and gratitude that can’t be matched at an oversized chain grocery store.
It’s been almost 16 years that my boyfriend and I have made it a weekly ritual to go to the farmer’s market together on Saturday or Sunday morning and buy our food for the week. We are lucky enough to live in Los Angeles where the market is year round and can supply us with meat, produce, nuts, seeds, eggs, non-dairy yogurt, tea, and even olive and coconut oils. We supplement a few other items at the local grocery store but generally, 90% of our food comes from the farmers market.
This ritual is something we look forward to each weekend. We discuss the foods we want for the upcoming week and what recipes might be fun to cook. We get excited about the change of seasons and what new fruits and vegetables will be popping up.
In the Spring, we love the fresh fava beans and crisp sugar snap peas. In the summer, there are juicy stone fruits and sweet berries. The fall brings my favorite pumpkins and apples. And the winter gives us all the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, romanesco, and cauliflower.
We have our routine down and we each have our specifics that we pick out. We work as a team, making our rounds and meeting up at different intervals to check what the other has purchased. And whenever we have houseguests we love to take them along and introduce them to our treasured ritual. As for my sister’s recent visit, she maintains that the farmer’s market was the highlight of the trip.
There is one drawback to the farmer’s market that I should give fair warning about. Getting such great quality food has the unintended effect of ruining eating out. I find myself often disappointed with the meals I eat at restaurants now. Eating out has lost much of the appeal it used to have.
I enjoy the food we buy and I am happy to bring my own lunch to work every day. I find it easier than having to worry about what undesirable ingredients may be added to food I order at restaurants.
Because the food we buy is fresh and full of flavor, it is simple to cook. It doesn’t take anything fancy to make it taste good. I chop some fresh herbs and add little heat and fat to a pan of vegetables and it makes a delicious dish. The grass-fed beef and pastured chickens we buy are always tender and mouthwatering. Most restaurant meats don’t stand a chance next to these farm fresh meats. So if the cost is more than the grocery store meats, I make up for it by saving money on take out and going out to eat.
How to Support Your Local Farmers
I completely understand that I am very lucky to live in a place where I can get amazing, organic, meats and produce all year long. But farmer’s markets are growing rapidly throughout the nation. Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in the country has risen from 2,000 to 8,600, according to the Farmers Market Coalition. The Coalition says that the majority of markets are open during the prime harvest season of spring, summer, and early autumn, but says that about 15% of them are open in the winter months. Their website goes on to say,
Many markets are expanding their seasons or transitioning to year-round operation by offering their shoppers items including meat, eggs, dairy, bread and other products that are available fresh throughout the year. Even in colder climates, farmers are implementing a variety of season-extending techniques that can protect crops from frosts and allow them to be picked and sold fresh for more weeks of the year.
There are three websites you can consult to find where they may be a local farmer’s market in your area: USDA’s Farmers Market Directory, or at LocalHarvest.org and EatWellGuide.org. The states with the most farmers markets are Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Kentucky, New York, Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
If you don’t have a local farmers market convenient to you, there are other ways to support local farmers. You can join a CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture. Generally, this means that for a subscription fee you get a weekly delivery of produce. Often you can choose what size box you want to accommodate the size of your family. The fun part of a CSA is that each week’s ingredients are a surprise. You get whatever is ripe and ready to be picked which can vary from week to week and month to month. You’ll get introduced to a variety of new vegetables you may not have tried before. Typically, prices range from $20-$25 per week.
Another way to support your farmers is to look for grocers and restaurants that source from the local farms and butchers. Try Sustainable Table’s, Eat Well Guide to help locate stores and restaurants in your area. You can also seek out local brands in your larger grocery stores and use your buying power to show your support.
If you live in an area where you can shop at the farmers market, even for part of the year, try it out. Make it a weekly ritual. When you plan ahead and stock your fridge with fresh, seasonal ingredients you will find yourself excited to eat your own food. You will eat less food but be more satiated from the high nutritional value of the ingredients you are eating. You will find a greater appreciation for how the food gets to your plate while building a sense of community and sustainability. And those are the ingredients for a happy and healthy life.