One day, when our fruit trees have matured, our vegetable garden has been expanded, and I have acquired more livestock, I hope to grow or raise the majority of the food we eat on our own land. In the meantime, despite all my toil in the garden, we still need to buy a lot of our produce from external sources. Supermarkets offer convenience and variety, and I will always rely on them to some extent for products such as flour, yeast and vinegar. For everything else however, I prefer to shop in the weekly and prepare our food from scratch, here’s why…

1. Reduction in fossil fuel consumption 

For a start, most of my local farmers markets are held closer to my home than the actual supermarket, so I directly reduce my fuel consumption by shopping there. Produce sold at the farmers market also tends to have been brought in for sale from the immediate local area. In contrast, produce sold at supermarkets has either been flown in from overseas or shipped around the country from depot to depot to be packed and processed. Transporting food over such long distances uses a large amount of fossil fuel.

2. Freshness 

The food available at the farmers market is very fresh, having generally been picked within a couple of days of sale. Given the supply and distribution chains of most large supermarkets, such freshness would be impossible for them to achieve. Fresh food not only tastes better than food that has spent a week or so in transit, but it also lasts longer, which is a major bonus to people like me who are only able to go shopping once a week.

3. Better taste

Food at the farmers market not only tastes better because it is fresher, but also because the varieties on offer are those that have been selected for cultivation on the basis of their taste, rather than qualities that are attractive to supermarkets such as high yields, long shelf-life, suitability for gas-induced ripening and consistency in appearance. Try an heirloom tomato such as ”Tommy Toe” and I swear you will struggle to buy a tomato from the supermarket ever again!

4. Higher nutritional value

Heirloom vegetables tend to have a higher nutritional value than their newer hybrid equivalents as they were selected for quality rather than quantity. The level of freshness also pushes local food ahead in terms of nutritional value as produce rapidly loses nutrients in transit. Supermarket produce can take up to two weeks from being picked to reaching your plate and by that time as much as 45% of the nutritional value may be gone. If the produce is not in season and has not been picked locally within the last couple of days, in terms of nutrition you would likely be better off buying frozen instead.

5. Lower price

Purchasing food at the farmers market is usually cheaper than buying it at the supermarket, as you are effectively cutting out the middlemen. I can buy 1kg of fresh Roma tomatoes at the farmers market for $2.50, compared to $7.88 in the store. Better still, the market food has often been grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides so is more comparable with the supermarkets produce which is even more expensive. You can often find particularly good deals on exotic/specialist items. For example, I love Shitake mushrooms, but would never pay the $5.80 to buy 100g of dried mushrooms in the supermarket. Thankfully, each weekend I can buy the same quantity of these mushrooms fresh for only $2!

6. Produce is seasonal

Farmers markets only offer the foods that are available locally at any given time. If bananas or strawberries are not in season, you will not find them available for sale. For some, this may be an inconvenience, but I find having a limited window of opportunity makes me appreciate my favourite foods more when they finally become available. It also means I avoid the disappointment I always feel after buying overpriced, out of season foods that have been shipped from overseas.

7. Safer

Supermarket produce is often highly processed and grown using pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. Their fruit and vegetables are also more likely to come from genetically modified stock and to have been irradiated, waxed, or gassed to maintain ‘freshness’ during transport. Such practices may have a negative effect on human health. In contrast, the fruit and veg found at the farmers market tends to be fresh, minimally processed, from non-GMO sources and more sustainably grown.

8. Supports local economy

Shopping at farmers markets actively supports local business, aids employment and helps to ensure investment in community services. When farmers sell at local markets they receive 100% of the retail price, rather than the 5-30% they are paid when selling to a chain that includes processors, distributors and retailers. The higher profit margins help small farms to stay in business, this in turn conserves open spaces and low-intensity agricultural landscapes that may otherwise be sold for development.

9. Makes an enjoyable day out  

For me, there is absolutely no competition between strolling around outdoors at the market, chatting to neighbours and tasting produce, and the alternative…shivering in the chilled foods aisle under artificial light. Farmers markets are not only a fun day out, but for those with children they can also provide a valuable educational opportunity.

10. Easier to avoid plastic packaging 

One of the main advantages of shopping at the farmers market for me, is being able to completely avoid plastic packaging. Even when I deliberately buy supermarket food sold in a cardboard box I often find a surprise layer of plastic inside when I open it at home. At the market I choose produce that is sold loose and carry it in my own cotton shopping bags. As I generally shop for only one or two people, this also reduces the amount of food we waste as I have better control over portion size and level of ripeness.

11. Promotes more humane treatment of animals?

The meat, eggs and dairy products available for sale at farmers markets generally come from small, independent, family farms or hobby farms where there is a greater potential for good animal welfare. Whilst farm size and ownership does not always ensure a better standard of life for the animals, the market environment gives you the opportunity to speak directly to the farmer about their methods and to arrange a visit to the farm is further reassurance  is needed. Buying locally raised animals also means that there is less chance that the animals have been transported live over long distances, under stressful conditions.

12. Opportunity to make friends and become involved in community life

I live in a fairly remote location and work from home, so don’t really have a lot of opportunity to bump into my neighbours on the street. Most of the conversations I have are on the phone or over the internet. Visiting the local markets each weekend therefore provides an excellent opportunity to develop relationships with other members of the community, catch up with my neighbours and pick up the local news.

13. Great place to pick up food preparation hints and tips 

Buying a product direct from the farmer provides an excellent opportunity to pick up hints and tips on preparation from someone with a lot of knowledge about using it. Last week, I bought some wonderful fresh bamboo shoots from Malanda country market and was very thankful that the seller took the time to explain how to prepare the importance of boiling and simmering them before use. Had I picked these up in the supermarket, I would most likely have just cut them into strips and fried them with other vegetables, which would have quite literally left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

14. Promotes food security/resilience

There are only a few hybrid varieties that meet the demands of modern day supermarkets and as such there is little genetic diversity in the fruit and vegetables sold to the consumer. Buying old heirloom varieties that have been passed down over hundreds or even thousands of years helps to conserve the diversity and increase the resilience of our food systems to withstand future environmental challenges such as climate change and feeding the rapidly escalating human population.

15. Removes the temptation to buy unhealthy processed foods  

Supermarket layouts and promotions are designed to encourage you to spend more in store and this often leads to impulse buying. Even armed with a meal plan and budget I find myself sorely tempted to buy chocolate bars at the checkout, or junk food that is being offered 2 for the price of 1. I always spend more than expected and arrive home with several things I didn’t really want – generally all very unhealthy!  In the farmers market there are no cunning marketing strategies so I am much more likely to leave with exactly what I came to buy. The closest thing I have ever had to 2 for 1 is someone slipping me an extra aubergine for being a loyal customer!

Looking for a farmers market in your area?
Here are some excellent resources to help you find your local farmers market:
Australian farmer Market Directory
Farmers (USA)
Local foods UK
Farmers markets Canada

Further reading

1.Why Heirloom Tomatoes Taste So Good
2. Antioxidants in Fresh and Frozen Fruit and Vegetables: Impact Study of Varying 
Storage Conditions.
3. Frozen vegetables ‘more nutritious than fresh vegetables’ says report 
4. Declining Nutrional Value of Produce Due to High Yield Selective Seed Breeding  
5.Lessons from Talking to Farmers
6. Loss of plant varieties the world of monoculture
7. Conspiracy or commercialism: Are our supermarkets manipulating us?

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