Looking for a great place to go for high-quality foods in addition to your commissary? Check out your local farmers' market! It might be a roadside farm stand or a place where many local producers come together to sell fresh produce (and often eggs, honey, homemade baked goods, fresh cuts of meat and more). Whether you live in a city or a rural area, there's likely to be a farmers' market nearby where you can purchase food, directly from the source, that's good for you and tastes fantastic!
Farmers' markets are seasonal. In the spring you can find vegetables that arrive early like salad greens, peas, and carrots. In the summer, look for corn, tomatoes, squash, melons, peaches, berries and many other locally grown fruits and vegetables. When fall comes, farmers' markets have apples, pumpkins and more. Whenever you go, there will be many healthy choices and perhaps some new and interesting things to try.
Benefits of buying locally grown food
Farmers' markets have become very popular as more people recognize the health benefits of eating food that has been grown close to home and harvested recently. Here are some good reasons to buy local food:
- You know that it's fresh. Most produce in a farmers' market was picked the same day or the day before, without being handled by a lot of different people.
- You know that it will be better for you. The longer the time between harvest and consumption, the more nutrients that produce loses. Big supermarkets rely on large-scale food distribution systems and sell produce that may have been picked many days before it's sold.
- You'll get to know the farmers. They're often right there and glad to answer questions about their produce or give you ideas for preparing it. If you find that you love a particular variety of something, you can go back to the farmer who grew it and get more.
- You'll be making a small contribution to energy conservation. Bringing in foods from many miles away consumes a lot of energy. No one needs to give up their bananas or coffee. But why eat a cantaloupe that traveled across the country when you can have one that was grown close to home?
- You'll be supporting your local economy. Buying local foods supports small businesses where you live. The famers who bring their produce to a farmers' market are usually unable to produce the quantities required by large supermarket chains.
Farmers' market shopping tips
The hustle and bustle of a large farmers' market can be an exciting adventure for military families. The choices may also be a little overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your farmers' market experience:
- Think seasonal. Before you go, think about what fruits and vegetables will be in season and plan meals around these items. Make a habit of choosing foods that are at their peak freshness.
- Ask for a taste. Most farmers are proud of their produce and will be happy to let you sample a tomato or a melon.
- Compare prices. Buying fresher and healthier food at a farmers' market does not always mean that you'll pay less for it than at the supermarket. But it does pay to look at what several vendors have to offer and check their prices before you decide.
- Make your visit a learning opportunity for children. The festive atmosphere of a farmers' market is fun for children, and it's also a great place for them to learn about healthy foods and where they come from.
Find a farmers' market near you
The growing demand for locally grown food means that farmers' markets can be found just about everywhere. The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier for you to find one nearby with the Farmers' Market Search.
This online tool identifies the farmers' markets near you and gives directions, days and hours of operation, the number of vendors, and the types of products sold. You can also find out whether you'll be able to use your credit card or federal nutrition benefits, like Women, Infants, and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at a particular farmers' market. Over 7,000 farmers' markets are included in this directory.
Preparing healthy meals
There's more to healthy eating than having fresh fruits and vegetables from a farmers' market. If you need to change your eating habits to get healthier or learn how to make more balanced and nutritious meals, be sure to take advantage of Military OneSource's Health and Wellness Coaching Program. You'll be able to learn through an interactive online course, the Living Lean-Lifestyle Management and Nutrition Program, or through telephonic and online sessions with a personal coach. This program is free for eligible service members and their families.
Eating well and staying healthy has never been easier!