June 19, 2011

Farmers markets open for season

Richard Gast: Cornell Ag Connection

---- — When you shop at the farmers market, everybody wins.

As a customer, you get to select from the finest, the freshest and the best local produce and prepared foods that money can buy. You'll find a terrific variety of freshly picked vegetables and fruits, homemade baked goods, locally prepared, pickled, brewed and smoked goods, and much, much more.

You can meet and visit with the growers, ask questions and get closer to the sources of locally grown and prepared wholesome, nutritious food. What's more, you can be confident and feel good about buying home-grown food from your neighbors. Hey, it's fun to talk to the folks that grow it! And they'll appreciate your feedback.

In an age of global markets, it is all too easy to see how local towns and communities can easily lose touch with the efforts and the productivity of area farmers and growers. By shopping at the farmers market, you support local growers and the productive use of our land and water. And you help support the preservation of agricultural land and the knowledge of our agricultural heritage for future generations. What's more, when you shop at the farmers market, you help strengthen our rural economy.

Besides, locally grown and prepared foods tastes better and are more nutritious than fruits and vegetables that are picked before they're ripe and then transported across the continent or halfway around the world.

The tradition of farmers markets can be traced back to ancient times. Farmers Markets were the centers of villages and towns. They were not only places where people gathered to buy, barter and trade goods and services, but places where people met to exchange news and share stories with one another as well. Many parts of the world have a tradition of farmers markets going back many centuries.

In much the same way, farmers markets have deep roots in our nation's history. In 1806, Thomas Jefferson wrote about buying beef, eggs and vegetables at an outdoor market. Throughout much of the 19th century, outdoor market places were the heart of our American cities, and the farmers markets were the centers of commerce in rural communities.

But as the country grew, everything changed. More and better roads were built nationwide, and more modern methods of refrigeration were invented and applied. It became possible to transport produce from large commercial farms to centers hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Wholesalers took advantage of opportunities to place fruit and vegetables produced by large commercial and corporate growers into neighborhood supermarkets owned by even larger corporations. The small farmer was unable to compete.

But, in recent decades, farmers markets have been making a comeback. Today, Americans spend billions of dollars annually at more than 6,100 farmers markets nationwide.

Your local farmers market is a place where people can come together, not just to buy and sell food, but to share gardening tips and ideas, recipes and seasonal information as well. Shopping at the farmers market can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The customer gets the freshest, highest-quality food possible, and the grower makes some money. There are no middlemen and no stockholders, just local, independent growers selling their own produce direct to the public.

Support your local farmers market.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture and Natural Resources, Agriculture Programs Assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214, email