Where to Shop for Healthy Food
One of my Facebook friends was lamenting the fact that they are doing all kinds of research on food and finding out all sorts of things that they should not eat. They, along with many of you, are becoming increasingly concerned about Genetically Modified Organisms, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, food additives and preservatives, artificial hormones and antibiotics, etc. contaminating most of the foods that fill today's grocery stores.
This friend's lamentation, however, was not this fact alone. It was the fact that he didn't know what he could do about the problem. He didn't know where to find food that wasn't contaminated with these things, and he felt like there was nothing left that he could eat.
I've got good news for him, and for you too, if you're finding yourself with the same dilemma.
There are plenty of places where you can procure good, wholesome food that is full of nutrients and free of contaminants. You just have to know where to look, and in the next few posts I'm going to tell you just that.
Today I want to focus on my favorite resource for healthy food: your local Farmer's Market.
The surest way to ensure that what you are eating is “clean” is to know exactly who grew or raised it, and how they did so.
Now, be careful, and don't just assume that everything you buy at the farmer's market is wonderful, organic food. Some sellers are a little tricky – they buy cheap produce from who-knows-where and bring it to re-sell at the farmer's market. The result? You pay extra for food that's no better than what you could have gotten at this week's sale price in the grocery store. I'll mention a little later how you can avoid the scammers.
But first I need to help you locate your local Farmer's Market. The easiest way to do that is to go to www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets and type in your zipcode. With the click of a button, you'll see all the Farmer's Markets in your area.
Now, here are the answers to questions you may have about shopping Farmer's Markets as well as some helpful tips.
How do I avoid the re-sellers?
- Well, first, you can obviously just ask where they got their produce. They may tell you they grew it themselves, or they may hem and haw and try to convince you it's local in-season produce. Ask them where their farm is located. Can you stop by for a visit?
- Take a look at the types of produce they're selling. Are they all in season in your area? If not, you probably don't need to buy from them.
- Get to know the policies of your particular Farmer's Market. Some do a great job screening out re-sellers and you shouldn't even need to worry about it.
- Make friends with others who are farther along than you on their healthy eating journey. They will be able to share their experience and knowledge with you on a lot of things, including who not to buy from.
Is all the food organic?
- Most farmers are not selling food that is certified organic, because it's quite an expensive process to be certified. However, many of them grow their food using organic principles, and some even out-do the government's requirements for organic food. You most likely won't find signs on their booths advertising “organic produce” because it's illegal for them to label anything as organic if they aren't officially certified. Again, this is where you have to ask questions. What, if anything, do you use to spray your crops? How do you fertilize your soil? What do you feed your animals? Where do your animals live? Do you treat your animals with any antibioitics? These are all good questions to which to learn the answer.
Should I buy stuff that's not organically grown?
- Obviously, if you can get the organic stuff, you should do that. But if you're just not finding it, local non-organic produce is better for you than store-bought non-organic. Since local produce is picked just when it's ripe, and not weeks before like produce that has to be shipped cross-country, it contains more nutrients, tastes better, and stays fresh longer. Also, the people that pick, pack, ship, unload, and display grocery-store produce are many and have no accountability to you the consumer, which greatly increases your risk of food-borne illness.
More good questions to ask at the Farmer's Market:
- What is this and how do I prepare it? Shopping the Farmer's Market offers you an inexpensive avenue to try all sorts of new foods. There's no better person to ask for recipes than the person who grew it.
- Will you sell this at a lower rate if I buy in bulk? Remember that while you're looking at an abundance of fresh produce, in a few weeks time, it will be done. You won't see it again until the next year unless you buy extra to take home and can or freeze.
A few more helpful tips:
- Go early. Some farmers have limited amounts of certain items that only have a small production window (asparagus for example). Since it's only available for a short time, it will be a popular item that will sell out quickly. If you're going to get any, you'd better get to the market early enough to get it during the few weeks it's available.
- Make 2 rounds – the first to scope out who's there, what they're selling, and for how much. Then go back and buy the best quality and/or least expensive options.
- Use social media to your advantage. Many farmers are learning the importance of maintaining a Facebook page. Follow your favorites so you can keep up with who will be at the market and what they'll have. Many a Saturday morning I make the effort to
get up extra earlypush my husband out of bed extra early so he can get to the market to get something specific before it's sold out. Because I know for sure it will be available that week, I make an extra effort to make sure one of us gets there early enough to get it.
- Bring bags – this is optional since most vendors will have plastic bags available, but using your own does save them the trouble of collecting bags throughout the week to use for customers.
- Bring cash – Some vendors can accept credit cards, and many Farmer's Markets are developing the ability to accept EBT, but using good old fashioned cash keeps costs down for the farmers so they can stay in the business of providing quality food for your family!
What are your best tips for shopping at Farmer's Markets?