The first thing you should determine is whether farmers markets in your location are “Public Markets”, or “Street Markets”. Public markets are open year round whereas produce sold by farmers are seasonal.
- Public Market: an indoor, fixed market in a building and selling a variety of goods.
- Street Market: stalls or booths set up on streets, parking lots, flea markets, roadside corners, etc.
Learn where farmers markets are located around your home. If you do not know where farmers’ markets are in your area, check out this reference from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers Market Search and Local Harvest.
There are many reasons to buy fruits & veggies from farmers markets:
- To eliminate BPA from your regular diet, move away from canned food items and
get fresh produce.
- Lack of mass production reduces the possibility of E. coli in your produce.
- Produce at many farmers markets is pesticide-free (ask the farmer before you buy).
- Most foods are GMO-free.
- Produce tastes better due to the reduced time from being picked and you getting it.
- It helps local farmers as well as your community.
- When food items are safer and cheaper, you will find it easier for your family to try new foods. If they do not like the new foods, the cost is less than you would have paid at supermarkets. See Vermont Farmers Markets Price Comparison.
- When street markets are closed due to produce being out of season, you only need to decide on price because public markets are, in many cases, cheaper than supermarkets. Both ship food items and unless you purchase organic, you still have to deal with chemicals in your food items.
- Many public markets sell nuts, grains, seeds, flours, etc., many times in bulk.
- Many public markets sell seasonings and almost always much, much cheaper than you can get in the supermarket.
- I reuse many glass jars in a variety of sizes and put my own labels on them with the various seasonings in the jars and I also provide health tips on a label that I put on the backside of the jar.
- It is a great way to get the kids involved. Let them pick out the various fruits and veggies, learn to cook, plan meals, etc. To get you started, check out some of these resources:
- Penn State U: Caring for Kids – Kids Can Cook
- Nemours: Teens Health Food Safety
- Nemours: Teens Health Cooking Tips
- Fast Meals, Quick Snacks, a cookbook for teenagers made possible by the USDA Food Stamp Program through the California Nutrition Network for Healthy, Active Families.
Another great resource is Farmers Market Food Safety by Food Safety, Smart Nutrition Starts Here.
Learn what fruits & veggies are in season and build your menu around those fruits & veggies.
- They are brighter colors
- They taste better
- There are hundreds of websites that show fruits & veggies in season so I will not belabor this issue; however, I will share some of my favorite websites for anyone who does not know where to start:
Consider growing your own seasonings such as basil, rosemary, oregano, mint, etc. All of these can be grown in pots.
- If you are going to work at reducing the amount of salt in your menu/recipes, you will find that you cannot just reduce the amount of salt in a recipe and expect anyone to like it.
- However, when you include seasonings, it helps.
- When you include FRESH seasonings, you will most likely find that everyone who tries a meal will like the flavor much better than when you used salt.
NOTE: It took a while for me to get to this point; however, I now buy most of the items that I will need for my menu for a month (rather than every 2 weeks) and just stop at the farmers market to get fresh fruits & veggies, seeds, seasonings, etc.
We have several farmers markets in the area where I live and once a month, I go to the Amish farmers market and get their meats and homemade breads.
Only buy the amount of food items that you will use. Do not be duped into buying a larger item that you can use – unless the cost of that item is less than the small item, in which case, try to share the extra with a friend, relative, or neighbor. Even if you trash the excess, you will not have lost any money because in this case, the larger size was cheaper than the smaller size.
TAKE ACTION #1: Take note of the various supermarkets, superstores, little Mom & Pop ethnic grocery stores, and other merchants that are in your area that you never noticed before. You will find that when you include a wide variety of foods into your menu, everyone will look forward to meals.
TAKE ACTION #2: Visit one Organic at least one of each: OCA, CSA, Co-Op, U-Pick Farm with your family. Ask each family member whether or not they liked what they saw.
NOTE: if you have no interest in learning more about BPA, pesticides, antibiotics, E. coli, or GMO versus organic, skip this next section and continue on to Know Where to Go.
Safety topics that you most likely are completely aware of from the food items you purchase at grocery stores and supermarkets are BPA, pesticides, e. Coli, GMOs, and organic. However, I’d be irresponsible if I did not provide a quick overview of these items as well as references so you can read more detail yourself.
BPA: an industrial chemical: bisphenol A. Beginning in the 1960s, it was used in the cans used for all canned food items and beverages, water bottles, baby bottles, plastic containers that you get food items from at the supermarkets, Tupperware, compact discs, etc.) Many people re-used these items to re-heat leftovers. The more I researched what BPA can do to people, the more studies I found that linked BPA to cancer, Alzheimer’s, delayed brain development in children and teens, and obesity (interferes with neural circuits that regular feeding behavior).
What you can do: only use plastic containers that do not use BPA in their manufacturing process or use glass porcelain or stainless steel containers.
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating
- Medical News Today article dated 8/1/2013: What is BPA? Is BPA Harmful?
- Rubbermaid: Helping You Make the Right Choice
Synthetic Fertilizers, Chemical Pesticides, and Antibiotics: As you know, because the general public uses so many antibiotics, whether willingly taking them or used in food items, antibiotic resistant microorganisms morphed, making it much more difficult for medicine to fight sickness because the general public has ingested so many antibiotics. Not only that; but insects have become pesticide resistant. However, there are safe alternatives (just as there are safe alternatives to flea treatment for pets!)
- World Health Organization: Report on antibiotic resistance; serious worldwide threat to public health
- Pesticide: Pesticide Resistance
- CDC: Get Smart about Antibiotic Resistance
- Sustainable Table: Antibiotics and the Food Animal Industry
E coli: Escherichia coli is a bacteria that causes a variety of illnesses and diseases. Many of the mass outbreaks spread quickly because of mass production. E. coli is in the stomachs and intestines of animals, which is another reason why you should wash ALL produce.
- CDC: E.coli List of Recent Outbreaks
- Foodsafety.gov: Poisoning Causes
- Livestrong: Types of Diseases Caused by E. coli
- Web MD: E. coli Infection from Food & Water
GMO: Genetically modified organisms are scientifically engineered alterations. The reason I mention that in this section is, although there is no scientific evidence about if GMO is good or bad, I prefer to know what is in my food items so that I can make the determination myself.
Organic: My own personal definition of organic foods is food items that are the kinds of foods that I had as a child. Although the population of the world has significantly increased from when I was young, the incidences of autoimmune diseases have also significantly increased. I have no evidence to know whether BPA, synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, or GMOs are the reason for the huge increase in autoimmune diseases. I do know that precautionary antibiotics that are fed to animals has caused microorganisms to morph into super drugs that are impossible for the medical world to counteract and people are dying because of the super bugs.
There are a variety of options available. As with Step #1 of the 10-Step Supermarket Combination Technique, this will take time for you to research what options you will use. Kids will be more apt to try new foods if they play a part in deciding where you will be getting their food items. Therefore, I provide so many references so that you can make your own food choices.
Organic Consumers Organization (OCA) was formed in 1998 with the goal of standing up against the USDA proposed regulations for organic foods. By way of educational campaigns such as Safeguard Organic Standards, the OCA was able to force USDA and food manufacturers to honor strict organic standards. Through its Breaking the Chains Campaign, the OCA educated consumers about how their decisions with regard to the food items they bought could force businesses and agencies to provide safer and greener foods.
- OCA Buying Guide
- OCA Natural Food Locator
- OCA Home Delivery Locator
- Local Harvest Organic Farms
- USDA National Organic Program
- Shaping Sustainable Markets
- Eat Safe (UK)
- European Commission on Organic Farming
- Wikipedia: List of Organic Food Topics
- Sustainable Table Local Sustainable Organic Food Locator
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): a network of people who agree to support local farms by sharing the costs and risks as well as benefits of growing food items. All network members subscribe at the beginning of a growing season and share in the expected crops by receiving weekly shares of produce. Some CSAs have herbs, produce, meats, and sometimes even meat. Check out some of the references below to decide if a CSA is for you and your family. Keep in mind that because shares are determined at the beginning of growing seasons, you will most likely not be able to select what items you want to receive but rather will receive items that you are unfamiliar with. It is a great way to try new food items.
Food Co-operatives: a group of people that form a “club” so they can mutually share in the benefits realized of buying larger quantities and sharing among group members. Most co-ops provide consumer education, support their local communities, and share in the cost of food items. Some co-ops form clubs that purchase from warehouse clubs and distribute the items among members. By using co-ops, in addition to financial savings, you also help your local community because when you purchase from supermarkets, less than $0.20 of every dollar goes to the farmers. The remainder of a dollar goes to a variety of middlemen.
- Events Locator
- Co-Op Directory
- Co-operative Grocer Directory
- Why Buy from Local Co-Ops
- Local Harvest offers a great resource by product
Pick Your Own Produce: at one time, U-Pick farms were cheaper than purchasing produce at grocery stores and in some cases, even farmers markets. However; because people ate so much produce as they were picking the items, Pick Your Own is no longer cheaper than supermarkets. U-Pick farms are not necessarily organic. The only reason I am listing U-Pick farms here is because it is still fun to take the family out, sometimes, because it is a great quality family event for all ages.
- Pick Your Own Locator: Pick Your Own
This website also is an excellent resource regarding calling the U-Pick farm before going, what to bring, follow the farm rules, what to do when you get home and other important tips: Pick Your Own Picking Tips
Be sure to pack in the trunk a solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water and a large bowl to swish fruits that you pick in before you put them in the car. This solution prevents mold from forming on the fruit. Before I learned this trick, several times I picked berries and when I got home from the farm, the berries were moldy. Ever since that time, I swish the berries before I put them in my trunk and they get home in perfect shape.
NOTE: I use the vinegar/water solution no matter where I purchase any kind of berries because the solution keeps the berries fresh for up to a week.
- Natural Blaze provides resources to local food farms, markets, stands, and co-ops
- Nutrition Government, Smart Nutrition Starts Here: Farmers Market Food Safety
- Eat Well Sustainable Food Guide: This guide is for those who want to eat better but do not know what to look for. It also includes info about bakers, butchers, bed & breakfasts, co-ops, CSAs, restaurants, stores, etc.