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YOU CAN LOVE THE FOOD, AND MAYBE FIND LOVE, WHILE VISITING A LOCAL FARMERS MARKET.

When Walmart Stores announced in fall 2010 that it would source vegetables locally by 2015, it was received as a mixed blessing.

On the pro side, locally grown produce can be healthier for people, good for local economies and a boost for overall environmental sustainability. On the con side … well, Walmart just isn’t a genuine farmers market. Organic farmer and sustainability advocate Anthony Flaccavento wrote on The Huffington Post that he worries about how Walmart has a tendency to drive down supplier prices, often to their ruin — a very bad thing for the small farmers who compose most farmers markets.

But it may also be a sign that farmers markets, and the whole locavore movement (made up of those who eat foods sourced within a close radius, such as 100-150 miles), are victims of their own success. Which, net-net, is probably a good thing. In both scenarios (Walmart and farmers markets), individual are getting produce at peak freshness, considered by the majority to be the most nutritious state of food. Not to mention the tastiest phase as well.

Will the world’s largest chain of superstores supplant farmers markets? Not likely — for a variety of reasons. I refer to my own survey conducted at farmers markets in New York City’s Union Square and Chicago’s Lincoln Park High School a few years ago. My quest was to determine if romance was possible among market customers. The answer was a resolute “yes.”
The questions were posed entirely at women, and the subject was men. I asked, “Does the fact

that a guy shops at a farmers markets enhance his attractiveness?” There was little doubt in their responses: 87 percent said yes. Why? “He’s adventurous, knows what’s going on in the city and is health conscious,” said one respondent.  “Anyone who is interested in food is interested in life,” said another.  “Men who cook are sexy,” another woman commented.
In other words, if you are a guy — with a full head of hair or none at all — just showing up might be all you need to do. It’s hard to imagine anything of that sort happening at many Walmarts (but never say never).

Farmers Markets: Nutrition benefits

While love might make the world go ’round, if you want to keep up with your lover, you need good nutrition too. Fortunately, if you patronize a farmers market on a regular basis, or at least while you have one nearby in season, you can cover both bases. Here are some other benefits of farmers markets (whether you, personally, are “in the market” or not).

  • Broader variety is healthier: A study published by the American Association for Cancer Research (Büchner, Bueno de Mesquita, et al., “Variety in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Risk of Lung Cancer,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, August 31, 2010) looked at the incidence of lung cancer relative to the variation in individuals’ consumption of fruits and vegetables. The study concluded that “variety in vegetable consumption was inversely associated with lung cancer risk among current smokers … Independent from quantity of consumption, variety in fruit and vegetable consumption may decrease lung cancer risk.” So if by wandering the stalls of a farmers market you come across an unusual vegetable or fruit, you should try it. Chances are the farmer or another customer may have a recipe suggestion that you can take home with you for dinner. That kind of advice is a lot harder to come by in a run-of-the-mill grocery store.
  • Fresher taste and higher nutrient content are provided: Nutrients in vegetables break down with time and exposure to light and oxygen. When you buy what you think is “fresh” in a regular grocery store, that tomato or string bean or rutabaga might well have been picked two weeks ago, then shipped and stored for days before you purchase it. In fact, varieties of tomatoes, apples and other fruit are grown less for taste and more for resilience to shipping and storage abuse. Heirloom varieties that are often featured at farmers markets can be tastier and have more nutrients intact.
  • Indulgence in slow food is a plus: Author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma; In Defense of Food) describes on his blog (MichaelPollan.com) a 36-hour goat roast with neighbors. It took that long to prepare a meal, and plenty of fruits and vegetables were prepared with that goat. The point is it was a communal affair, it involved a number of interesting and perhaps new foods for all participants and the work entailed a lot more than driving a car up to a take-out window. Farmers markets are filled with people who are inclined to doing something similar — maybe you need to bring a friend or two along someday and plan your own goat roast.
  • Local farmers are kept in business: Only smaller-scale farmers can participate in most farmers markets. You don’t see a Kroger or Sam’s Club or ConAgra booth at any. By buying their goods, you are supporting their farm, not some mega-agribusiness operating thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, their farms keep your region green with rotating crops, and the organic farmers (some farmers markets vendors provide organic produce, and many use fewer pesticides than traditional vendors) actually enrich the environment in a sustainable way.

In essence, having a farmers market as a part of your life, and the life of your community, is about quality. You can still load up on quantity — go ahead and can some peaches or squash or tomatoes for the winter — but every meal can be consumed with a special satisfaction many of our generation have never experienced before. It’s a lifestyle you definitely can fall in love with.