In recent years the term “organic” has grown in use and relevance in a wide spectrum of food and plant products. The idea that food should be grown naturally and without chemical additives grows in appeal to more and more people as consumers around the country are exposed to a variety of food recalls, contamination issues, and various illness outbreaks. Not every news story about contaminated food comes from harsh unnatural additives, however, these events have opened eyes around the country to the current trend, and many more people are opting for a different approach to their food. An approach that avoids exposing oneself to the common chemicals and elements found in common pesticides and fertilizers.
While the term organic can actually cover a wide range of definitions, the most prominent and widely-known definition is a description of something, animal or otherwise, which is cultivated with fertilizers and pesticides that come from plant or animal products, as opposed to chemically enhanced products. Certified Organic is an actual certification that farmers can use only after a full inspection and after paying a variety of fees. It is often very expensive to become a certified organic farmer and the costs of the program and certification are often beyond the scope of a small family farmer. Organic foods sold at stores like Whole Foods or other locally owned co-ops are often more expensive than cheaper large scale supermarkets. Part of this is cost difference comes from the costs accrued by being certified organic. For many people, they’d prefer the large supermarket prices, with the quality and safety of the organic foods. For many smaller farms and local growers, organic growing methods aren’t unusual or unordinary. Luckily, small farms still sell their produce and often, they sell it straight to their customers in a centuries old forum known as the open-air market. The next time you plan a trip to the grocery, instead find out where your local farmer’s market is and see what sort of options are available to you in your own neighborhood.
For me, a trip to a farmer’s market reminds me of being a child, dragged out of bed to get the good produce before it was all gone. It also reminds me of time spent with my grandmother, delicious summer meals, and a visit to the potato man, my favorite childhood vendor. Now as an adult, I find myself more conscientious of the produce that I purchase and where it’s coming from. As a mid-twenty-something and a homeowner, I want to be able to afford fruits and veggies. Living 5 blocks out of the heart of downtown Minneapolis, the hopes of finding homegrown, fresh produce for less than superstore prices seems unlikely. However, the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, consisting of two locations and open 7 days a week is one of the largest and most diverse farmer’s markets in the Midwest. Started back in 1876 in the very heart of downtown Minneapolis, the market moved twice before finding a permanent home on Lyndale Ave N and 3rd Street N in 1937. A second location operates on Thursdays and Saturdays on Nicollet Mall, the pedestrian walking mall in the middle of the business and shopping district of downtown Minneapolis. Over 50 vendors set up their booths along this famous street, between 5th Street and 12 Street all along the Mall. On a busy Thursday work day, thousands of downtown professionals can be seen purchasing fruits, veggies, flowers, meats, breads, and candies. Saturday and Sundays at the Lyndale location are packed with hungry shoppers and friendly farmers. 170 stalls are set up at the Lyndale location, and farmers from all over the world who now live in Minnesota and Wisconsin are there, selling everything from cucumbers and tomatoes to hanging flower baskets to bags of spinach and strawberries.
In the early 1900’s, the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market was one of the top fruit distribution centers in the nation. With only 107 to 160 frost-free growing days a year, the local fruit farmers have a limited season. For this reason, many of the local farmers also double as warehouse and wholesale representatives for fruits grown in warmer climates. Again, these are usually from smaller family farms and often, are family member or extension of the farm that’s locally operated. The Minneapolis market is located under three large permanent red tent-like shelters. A secondary market that’s a separate business is located next door, where organic foods, soaps, candles, along with unique clothing, jewelry and coffees are sold. The farmer’s market offers a wide variety of products that change as the year progresses. Compared to superstore prices, you’re getting a great deal. Fresh produce is on display and while you pick which batches you want, sellers will chat with regulars and offer discounts if you buy three sets of any of their items. The friendly vendors are always willing to talk about their product, and if you’re interested in their growing methods, they’d love to tell you all about them. What better way to find out how your food was grown than from the farmer himself? While they may not be certified organic, a buyer can definitely find out what the farmer uses on their produce, when it was picked, and any kinds of preservatives that are used on them. Don’t be surprised though, if your local farmer’s market offers as many wholesome, non-chemically treated products as your local organic co-op does.
There are about 100 reasons to shop your local farmer’s market. But if you’re not horribly concerned with organic classification or naturally grown foods, then let the fair prices attract you. Last Saturday, for just $25 I bought as many vegetables and fruits as I could carry. 12 ears of corn, a bag of potatoes, a large bag of spinach, 5 medium sized tomatoes, a large bunch of asparagus, 3 baskets of strawberries, a bunch of green onions, and a large bag of green beans. Everything I purchased was fresh, ripe, clean and delicious. Unlike grocery store produce, nothing was rotting or limp. The green beans were not bruised, the strawberries had no white spots or bitter taste. The tomatoes, asparagus and green onions are lasting nicely, leading me to suspect that they were freshly picked when I purchased them. The corn was by far, the best I’ve had all season. The strawberries alone would have cost over $10 at a store, and yet I had enough left over to buy a pound of fresh ground coffee beans from a locally owned coffee house.
Minneapolis is a large city and if a farmer’s market can exist and indeed, flourish in the heart of its downtown, then these markets are undoubtedly found operating in cities and towns around the country. Whether you’re looking for organic produce and feel most comfortable meeting the people responsible for your food, or if you just like fresh veggies at a cheap price, a farmer’s market is a sensible solution for your shopping needs. You’ll also be helping to support sustainable local business and the local farmers will surely thank you for it. If you’ve never seen a market in your area, google one and check to see if you have one. Often they operate in the early morning hours, though some like the Nicollet Mall market are open until 6:30 pm. If you live in the same state as your mom, ask her if she knows where a nearby one sets up. Moms are smart and observant, chances are she’ll know where one is. Markets as large as the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market also offer animal products in addition to veggies. Organic farm eggs, free-range chicken and beef along with bison meat, fish and a variety of jerkies are available for purchase as well. All of your questions about the meat will be happily answered and without stores and middlemen marking up the prices, you’ll leave with money left in your pocket.
In a world culture where most food is processed if not given preservatives, and where the average adult consumes double the daily recommended amount of sodium because of packaged preservatives, buying fresh veggies, fruits and livestock products from a traditional open market seems like a sensible option and truly, it is. The modern world has many conveniences and options, but among those options are more traditional customs. Perhaps taking a step back and doing something the way your grandparents did it when they were your age would be a benefit to a society that’s moving and changing more quickly than can be tracked. With super-viruses, biological warfare and global climate change on the tongues of politicians, scientists and concerned citizens, perhaps something as simple as going to a farmer’s market seems unlikely to make a change. On the other hand, maybe a better understanding of what you’re eating, who grew it, and shopping the way that people have shopped for thousands of years will remind everyone that huge superstores with massive lit-up signs and wealthy CEO’s aren’t the only way to buy food. Personally, I trust the farmer over the corporation and I’d rather they got my business than any box-store.