The organic farmers’ market in the town center was all a buzz at the weekend — as active as it was colorful. But, however busy with customers they were, the farmers/stand owners were more than happy to take the time to share ideas on how to prepare different dishes and offer a few taste-tests.
After having lived in France for 13+ years and Germany for six, shopping at farmers’ markets is familiar territory for me; for Nils, who grew up with markets, it’s second nature. Nevertheless, we continue to learn from these excursions, especially now that we’re committed to buying local and organic more often. Admittedly, it does require pre-planning, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, nor time-consuming. I strongly believe that the health, nutritional and taste benefits are worth the initial inconvenience.
Tips on Buying Local and/or Responsibly
- If you’re new to shopping at farmers’ markets or organic markets, expect to spend a lot of time for your first visit. Do not expect to have to spend that much time during your following visits.
- Take your own reusable bags.
- Educate yourself on seasonal fruits and vegetables in your area and buy and plan your menus accordingly, e.g., now is not the time for me to get a hankering to make asparagus soup or strawberry parfait.
- Or change your thinking completely when shopping. Shop like some of the fine chefs do: Find what looks good or is reasonably-priced and plan your menu around that.
- Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your farmers’ market, it’s easier to make a shopping list beforehand — this prevents too much impulse shopping, i.e., over-buying.
- Take a walk around your farmers’ market before buying. Prices and quality will vary.
- Ask questions. Find out how a farmer grows his produce or raises his animals. If you’re in the U.S., just because a farm doesn’t have the official “USDA organic” stamp of approval, doesn’t mean it’s not using organic or sustainable practices. To be “certified organic” is a long and expensive process that small farmers cannot all afford. By asking, “Are you certified organic?” you may get a simple, “No.” Try asking, “Do you use natural fertilizers and pest control techniques (instead of chemicals and pesticides)? Do you rotate crops (instead of using chemical herbicides) to control weeds?” or “How are your animals raised? (Are they fed organic feed? Do you avoid hormones or antibiotics? Are the animals allowed access to the outdoors?). You’re likely to find out more, and you’ll surely learn a few things.
- Know what your labeling means: Products may be labeled “all-natural,” “free-range,” or “hormone-free.” These products may be exactly what you’re looking for, but these labels do not mean they’re organic, nor necessarily healthier than others, e.g., facing pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, Ben & Jerry’s recently agreed to drop their “all-natural” label from their products. Some of their “all-natural” ice creams can contain alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, or other ingredients that aren’t natural.
- If you’re in the U.S. and don’t know where your closest farmers’ market is, try the USDA Farmers’ Market search.
Why Buy Organic or Buy Local?
We’re both excited to commit to buying more organic and local goods. By buying organic, we know that what we’re eating is grown naturally without unhealthy hormone treatments or pesticides. Additionally, there are no genetic modifications that can threaten local ecologies and that we believe can impact our health. By buying local, we know that shipping of our goods required limited transport, thus leaving a smaller carbon footprint and likely meaning fresher and better-tasting food. Though the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website claims that “No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food …”, at the very least, I have to believe that growing and raising without pesticides, chemicals and hormones must be “less poisonous” to our systems.
The week, we’ll be cooking up some of our purchases, and we’ll certainly include a posting on our culinary successes and recipes. So, watch this space.