The traditional family farm has been on the decline over the past several decades, and reports indicate that the US has lost nearly 5 million of these farms since 1935. While family farms have dwindled, they have not gone away entirely. Many of these farmers have shown up at local farmers markets in order to fill the void.
Each year, the demand for organic food continues to increase as Americans become more educated about how food is directly linked to health and how factory farming production methods harm the environment. Following are some of the top benefits of farmers markets and how they are making a positive impact on the environment.
According to a research study conducted by the USDA Economic Research Service, $1.2 billion was spent at local farmers markets in 2007 alone, which represented a huge increase from previous years. Additionally, farmers markets provide much-needed stability, as they are more likely to remain in the community, and new farmers have more incentive to come into the marketplace without fear of being shut out by commercial competitors. These farmers are also able to partner with local grocery stores in order to provide a wider variety of produce, offering another access point for consumers.
As the demand for organic produce increases, prices have come down and, in many cases, organic produce does not cost much more than non-organics. Farmers markets are not only important to the local economy, but they are also essential to the environment.
Fewer Greenhouse Emissions
It’s no secret that large production-focused farms contribute to a variety of environmental problems, most notably greenhouse gas emissions. It’s estimated that food typically travels more than 1,000 miles from the point of production to the grocery store. On the other hand, farmers markets usually require that the food sold by vendors travel no more than 200 miles to reach the farmers market.
Since locally grown produce is typically sold during the peak season, there is less chance of non-seasonal fruits and vegetables having to be transported from long distances. This in turn means that the cost to get the food to consumers is reduced, and fewer greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere. When customers support local farmers markets, they are also supporting a cleaner environment.
Farmers markets allow consumers to obtain the freshest produce possible. Research has demonstrated that produce loses its nutrients at a rapid rate, and each day that goes by during transport makes these items less nutrient dense. Produce that is locally grown and sold not only tastes better, but is better for you since it is being sold very close to when it was harvested. Locally grown produce is much healthier than produce found in grocery stores, since that produce is grown using methods designed to extend shelf life. Farmers markets are more likely to use organic farming methods, ensuring that customers receive the highest-quality produce available.
Additionally, farmers markets help to preserve the genetic diversity of produce. Commercially produced fruits and vegetables are not held to the same standard as locally grown produce, thus reducing the likelihood of genetic diversity. This is important because farmers markets provide customers with exposure to a wide variety of produce that isn’t available in stores, as certain types of produce are not conducive to lengthy shipping and storage times. In addition, farmers at these markets are more likely to engage in sustainable farming practices, from using pesticides that meet or exceed organic standards to educating customers about sustainable farming practices, as well as using methods such as composting and integrated pest management to help the environment.
Less Food Waste
In addition to the many other reasons to purchase from a farmers market, the reduction of food waste is also a major benefit. Even at very popular farmers markets, many items go unsold. These items will inevitably spoil before they go to market the next day, so farmers are often faced with the problem of food going to waste. Many farmers will start to offer discounts toward closing time so that the food does not have to be transported back, only to be uneaten. Some farmers even use the unsold produce to feed livestock, or else they go into compost bins.
Minnesota currently has a successful zero waste farmers market initiative that focuses on sustainable production and selling practices. This program concentrates on educating vendors about zero waste strategies and giving them step-by step instructions, as well as teaching consumers how to incorporate zero waste practices into their lives.
Farmers markets help communities to gain access to a wide range of healthy and delicious food, while also bringing us back to a simpler time when food was less contaminated and not shipped from thousands of miles away. Making the decision to shop at local farmers markets is not only good for your health, but it is also a testament to your commitment to making the environment better and actively supporting the community.