1. Farm Markets are Great for the Community
When it comes to buying truly local produce, a farm market in your community is the hands down best choice! Every dollar you spend at a farm market goes directly to sustaining the farmer who grew the food and the local community.
2. Fresher Produce
Everyone knows that fresh produce is better. What you probably don’t know is that when you purchase produce from a farm market the products could be fresher by five or more days!
Produce sold at the grocery store typically gets purchased on looks alone. You’ll never find a siamese-twin potato. And shiny, waxy apples always win out over bruised, dull ones.
That’s because the USDA provides grades for produce based on size and other cosmetic standards. Although optional, they’re used by large scale farms when trying to sell to a buyer, like a supermarket (which usually has its own aesthetic standards on top of those set by the USDA).
Since small farmers are selling direct to consumers at farmers markets, it’s actually a good sign to find so-called “ugly” produce. It means the food is actually local, and likely not a product of large-scale industrial agriculture. It also means more food is getting picked and not left to rot because it doesn’t conform to mainstream standards of beauty. These standards have nothing to do with taste or nutrition, but they dictate what’s sold in most conventional supermarkets and grocery stores.
3. You Can Typically Only Buy Local, Seasonal Produce
Have you ever looked for bananas at an American farmers market? Unless it’s in Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, southern Texas, or southern California, you likely won’t find any. And that’s actually a good thing!
Most bananas you find at the grocery store are imported from Central or Latin America. And it’s not just bananas. If you look around the produce section in a typical store, chances are a large portion of the fruits and vegetables are imported.
Farmers markets provide an opportunity to eat seasonally grown produce that’s produced locally. As a result, fruits and veggies are fresher, picked at the peak of ripeness, and contain more nutrients.
They also had less distance to travel in order to get to you, meaning reduced food miles and a smaller carbon footprint.
To find out what’s in season near you, check out the USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide.
4. It Can Save You Money
But farmers markets are expensive, right? Wrong!
Although that’s a common assumption, research has proven otherwise.
An independent study conducted by North Carolina organization Sequestering Carbon, Accelerating Local Economies (SCALE), found that in 74% of the communities studied, farmers market produce was cheaper than supermarkets, by an average of 22%.
And the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s 2016 Direct Market Pricing Study found that farmers market prices were competitive with grocery stores and supermarkets — especially when it came to organic produce.
Prices are even more competitive at the end of summer, with the best prices occurring in August and September.
Some markets also are now accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or other nutritional program benefits to increase access to fresh, healthy food for low-income individuals.
5. There May be Organic Produce That’s Not Certified
One of the many benefits of shopping at a farmers market is the availability of organic produce. But while any item labeled “organic” at a grocery store has to come with a USDA certification, not all organic produce at a farmer’s market will.
However, that doesn’t mean the farm hasn’t met organic specifications. Farms with sales less than $5,000 do not need to get certified in order to call their products “organic.”
In most cases, small organic farms simply opt-out because it’s not required and because they can’t afford the cost of the USDA organic certification process.
Costs for USDA organic certification range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. It all depends on the agent doing the certifying, the size and type of the farm, and how complex it is.
So, if you see a vendor with produce that says “organic” without the USDA organic logo, the best way to know if it’s truly organic is to ask the farmer how it was grown. Some markets may also require farmers to fill out a form or checklist that allows them to call their products “organic” without certification, so you may be able to ask to see that too if you want to do so.