April showers bring not only May flowers, but also many farmers’ markets are sure to be sprouting up! The most recent National Farmers Market Survey conducted by the USDA last year indicated there are over 7,175 farmers markets around the country and that number is quickly growing; this was a 17% increase since 2010! You likely will not have to look far to find a market in your area, plus many VA Medical Centers, such as the Memphis VAMC, have started their own! The Nutrition and Food Service staff in Memphis put together their first farmers market 3 years ago as a 1-day event in conjunction with National Nutrition Month events. The market was so popular, last year it was extended for the entire summer! Approximately 6-12 vendors gathered every other week on pay-day Fridays to sell their delicious farm-fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, and more. On any given market day, up to 200 Veterans and employees shopped the market. By mid-summer, it became common to see smiling faces carrying bags laden with fresh fruits and vegetables around the medical center. Memphis plans to start up the market every week this year beginning in the month of May. Many other VA facilities have also started markets. Go to http://www.nutrition.va.gov/ and click on the link under “Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” to find if your VA is participating. You may also check with your local Nutrition and Food Service staff or Dietitian to see if there is a market at your medical center!
Now, you may be wondering, what is all the hype about? Why should I buy my produce from the farmers’ market rather than my community grocery store? Here are a few reasons why:
The produce available at the market is much fresher than any fruits and vegetables sold in the local grocer – farmers often bring food they picked just yesterday on the farm! Plus, the fresher the food, the better it tastes! You might even find that you enjoy eating your vegetables.
Eating locally is more earth-friendly. The produce sold in grocery stores often travels thousands of miles, burning hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel before it reaches your grocery cart. Buying your produce locally decreases your “food miles” and is better for the environment.
Local farmers often use fewer pesticides on their plants and avoid giving their livestock growth hormones. When shopping at the market, farmers are often more than happy to answer any questions you have about how they grow their food or what they feed their animals.
Keep in mind that buying local means you have to cook by season! You won’t find peaches in April or broccoli in September. Check this website to see if your favorite fruits and vegetables are in peak season! Investing your hard-earned money in your community by buying from farmers in your area at the market. You’ll be supporting local small business and agriculture.
If you’re not sure how to cook the produce you picked up at your local market? Contact your VA facility’s registered dietitian! They can provide simple recipes or register you for a cooking class which many VA facilities now offer. You can also check out CDC’s Recipes page and search for recipes based on whatever fruit or vegetable you picked up that week at the market.
Are you too busy to shop at the market each week? Many farmers offer CSAs or “community supported agriculture” programs where you pay a lump sum to receive a package of that week’s produce pickings. Often farmers will coordinate produce pick-up locations with buyers to make it even more convenient for you.
Don’t forget to bring a re-usable shopping bag with you to the market to tote around all of your delicious local produce!
Ready to shop the bounty of delicious produce available from your local farmers? Contact the Nutrition and Food Service Department at your local VA to find out if they have a market at your facility or go to http://www.nutrition.va.gov/ (Link under “Fresh Fruits and Vegetables”). Most markets open in April or May as the spring growing season begins. Another way to find markets in your community is to check out USDA’s site and search by your zip code.
Deborah Davis MS, RD, LDN is an inpatient dietitian at the Memphis VA Medical Center. She loves to spend most of her Saturday mornings at the local Downtown Memphis Farmer’s Market shopping and volunteering at the pet-sitting tent.