Every Wednesday, the Portland farmer’s market takes over Monument Square. New England-grown sweet corn, fresh Maine blueberries, just-picked salad greens – it’s all there. The woman selling her handmade jewelry, a few locals playing a horn and a banjo, a beekeeper with her jars of organic honey – yes, yes, yes.
If you haven’t checked out a farmer’s market near you, YOU’RE MISSING OUT!
In an age where blueberries are shipped from Argentina and mangoes come over the border from Mexico, more and more shoppers are choosing the local route to keep money within the local community and bring fresher fruit to the dinner table.
Nearly $1 billion was spent on imported fruits and vegetables in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average food item travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles to get to consumers and can take days or even weeks to get from farm to mouth. Travel also uses fossil fuels that pollute the environment and deplete natural resources.
Harmful pesticides and farming procedures remain concerns for some consumers who worry that this imported food isn’t up to Americans’ standards.
Tim Belcher sells his produce at the Roanoke, Va. farmer’s market every day. His father was a farmer too.
“I’d like to see a ban on imported produce,” he said, because of what he calls a lack of government oversight of farming processes abroad. He pointed to poor working conditions in other countries that cause workers to defecate in fields for lack of restroom facilities as the cause of recent produce contamination scares
In 1989, traces of cyanide were found in Chilean grapes that caused the USDA to put a ban on food from the country. E. coli and salmonella outbreaks in spinach and tomatoes, respectively, that led to sickness in hundreds of Americans, have caused many consumers to question food safety standards.
DDT was banned worldwide, yet some countries, like India, still continue to spray the chemical on crops to ward off pests. India produces 41 percent of the world’s mangoes and 23 percent of bananas, according to the country’s agricultural department.
“With the local grown stuff around here, [the farmers] all eat what we grow. We’re not putting sprays and tons of stuff on the products we wouldn’t eat ourselves,” he said.
Websites like LocalHarvest.org and FarmersMarkets.com are making it easier for consumers to find the farmers and get the fresh food they want. In addition to farmers’ markets, LocalHarvest has search criteria for restaurants and grocery stores that carry local foods.
The newfound curiosity of where food comes from is due, in part, to the popularity of documentaries like Academy Award-nominated “Food, Inc.” and books like New York Times Bestseller “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan that shine light on the process of industrial food production that consumers rarely see.
Buying locally puts more cash in the farmer’s pocket for him to buy supplies from the local hardware store or dinner at the family-owned restaurant, keeping more money inside the local economy than buying from retailers.
A 2004 study by economic development consulting firm Civic Economics calculated that a dollar spent at a locally owned business in a Chicago neighborhood generated 70 percent more economic impact per square foot of sales space than a chain store. At local businesses, $68 out of every hundred stayed in the community compared to only $43 at a chain.
“I think people are tired of Wal-Mart. People are tired of corporate America. They want to support their local people so that people can make it [financially],” said Annette Fleisher, who works at Sumdat Farm Market, a shop at the Roanoke market that sells farmers’ goods for them.
“People are really trying to stay away from junk—junk foods, junk products,” Fleisher said. “They trust local people who sell local.”
Stephanie Hardiman is an intern with College Lifestyles (TM). She is a proud alumna of Washington and Lee University and Pi Beta Phi. Follow her on Twitter @Steph_Hardiman.