When you hear the term “small business,” the first image is not likely to be a small farm. But, in fact, small farms are small businesses. August 6-12 has been declared “National Farmers Market Week,” by the US Department of Agriculture, and if you want to help small American farmers survive, one of the most pleasant and delicious ways is to shop at farmers markets.
“Farmers markets totally saved our farm,” said Nick Prevedelli. Prevedelli Farms is a small, family-run apple, pear, and berry farm in Watsonville, California started 72 years ago. For much of their existence, they sold wholesale. But wholesale prices make it hard for farmers to survive, as American farmers receive only about 15.6 cents of every dollar Americans spend on food. But at farmers markets, farmers receive 90 cents or more of every dollar.
“We started in farmers markets about 25-30 years ago,” said Prevedelli. “It just grew. We got to the point we didn’t need to do wholesale. Everything we grew we were able to sell at the markets. It’s a win/win for small farms and for customers. We get to connect and sell directly to customers, and they get high quality fresh produce and to know their farmers.”
Shopping at your local farmers market is something you can feel good about and enjoy. On Saturday mornings, I walk to my local farmers market. Once there, Scottie and Jeremy, two ladies who volunteer for the local humane society, watch my dog Zuzu, while I shop for delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables, pick up fresh bread, perhaps buy some pasture-raised meat, visit with my neighbors, talk to some farmers I’ve gotten to know, and catch up on local gossip. It turns shopping into a social experience.
Farmers markets are also something you can share with your kids. They love tasting samples, meeting the farmers, and they’re more likely to eat healthy fruits and vegetables when they’ve helped pick them out. My five-year-old niece always asks for “farmer Nick’s apples.”
I’ve definitely found the produce I buy at the markets not only tastes better but stays fresher much longer. That’s because the produce was likely harvested within the last day or two, since more than 85% of vendors at farmers market come from within 50 miles of the market, according to the National Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). Produce you buy at the supermarket or superstore travel, on average, 1200 miles before it gets to you and is one-to-two weeks old. What’s happened to its flavor and nutrition with all that time and handling?
You’re certainly likely to get fruit and vegetable varieties you can’t find at a supermarket, because local farmers don’t have to only grow varieties that can travel on huge trucks for long distances or be mechanically harvested. They can concentrate on flavor.
“The decision to buy directly from local farmers not only puts the freshest, most flavorful food on your dinner table, it has a very real impact on that farmer’s livelihood,” said Jen Cheek, Executive Director of the National Farmers Market Coalition. “At farmers markets, we meet our community, access affordable, healthy produce, and support family farmers who overwhelmingly use farming practices that protect our environment. These are all benefits that impact each of us, and are all reasons to support farmers markets not just this week, but all year long.”
Farmers markets are for everyone. You’ve almost certainly got a farmers market near you that operates at least part of the year. There are farms and markets in every state, with the most markets in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Kentucky, New York, Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
You’ll find a number of resources to help you enjoy farmers markets near you this week and every week:
1. #farmersmarketweek – that’s the hashtag to follow on social media to see what events might be near you this week.
2. “Seasonal Food App from Grace Communications” – a brand new app for iphone and Android that helps you find out what produce is in season in your own locale and provides seasonal recipes. “Italians have always looked to their local farmers for product. They think with the seasons and so they eat with the seasons,” said celebrity chef Mario Batali, who praised the new app.
3. Farmers Market Coalition – a national organization to help strengthen farmers markets for farmers, consumers, and communities.
4. Links to find farmers markets near you:
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on August 9, 2017