A locavore’s holiday: National Farmer’s Market Week

In case you didn’t know, this coming week August 5 – 11 is National Farmer’s Market Week. All hail the mighty American farmer! Locavores, unite!

Believe me when I tell you, farmers don’t do what they do for the money. Well, they try to. But for smaller farms, it’s becoming harder and harder to break even these days. It’s almost the American dream to be able to make an honest day’s work simply tilling the land, and reaping the fruits of your labor as they ripen. It may seem easy – throw a few seeds in the ground, watch them grow, sell the results.

But it’s the overhead: Cost of land, paying workers, buying equipment, cost of water, and your yields being at the mercy of the elements that makes farming a tough trade to make a living. Many ranchers and farmers have to take second jobs just to make ends meet.

That’s where we, the consumers, come in! With health and wellness concerns taking hold of our modern-day culture, it makes sense that “locavore” is making its way into the community vocabulary. Especially in a dwindling national economy, buying locally grown produce has put Arizona “you-pick” or CSA-certified farms on the map of modern-day shoppers, urban and rural alike.

Why? There are several fantastic reasons.

First of all, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Food that is locally grown spends less time in the back of a truck; causing less damage to the food. When food is stored for long periods of time, the cells in the fruit begin to break down, causing wilting or bruising and the loss of nutrients. The sugars in the food also turn to starch, which makes the food tougher, and not as flavorful” (Sue Baic, British Dietetic Association, 2007).

So, that means two things: Despite the healthier aspect, when farmers sell directly to consumers, they cut out “the middleman,” so to speak, and get the full value for their produce upfront, which also weighs a little lighter on the consumer’s coin purse, as well. Secondly, it cuts down on emissions from fewer trucks taking produce to long-distance locales. So you’re paying the farmer directly, from the vine to your hand, instead of the high dollar signs at the market due to costs of transportation and related constantly fluctuating gas prices. Consequently without much effort, you’re doing your part in living a little ‘greener.’

Thirdly, paying the local farmer helps keep that money circulating at the community level. It helps support local jobs on the farm, or other related, regional costs the farmer needs to pay.

Wow, right? Why haven’t we always been doing this?

Don’t know where there are any local farmer’s markets? No problem! (And no excuses 😉 ). The Arizona Farm Bureau and the USDA have a wealth of information about the schedule and locations of markets in the state of Arizona, as well as a great graph on the USDA site about growing seasons and what produce is harvested when.

In this modern world, we’ve become so removed from where real food comes from. So this week, do yourself (and food growers!) a favor: Shop local, fresher, healthier, greener, and cheaper, all in one place – at the food source. Win-win for everybody, and is a great big thank you to the hard work our farmers go through to get that food on our tables.

Happy Farmer’s Market Week, everyone!

Don’t always have time to make it out to an area farmer’s market? Do the next best thing! Buy produce at the stores grown locally. Every time I’m at the market, for example, I pick up these sprouts, grown and shipped from only the next town over. Shop local this week! Show your support for food growers in your area.
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Whose plate is turning “one” today? Yours!

In case you didn’t know, today is a special day: Happy 1st Birthday, ChooseMyPlate.Gov!

While I haven’t personally been utilizing this great resource, a cursory look at the website today has impressed me. With a clean, user-friendly interface for the Internet surfer, you can learn about all of your basic food groups: Fruit, veggies, grains, and protein foods, as well as oils and dairy. They give you an idea on how much should be in your plate of each, how to measure them, and the health benefits of each, among other helpful tips. The site also has some great tabs with other related information regarding physical activity (how to be more active, and why), weight management tips/tools and resources (BMI calculator, calorie burning charts to help you keep focused, etc), healthy eating tips, and a helpful little chart regarding empty calorie foods. Empty calories are foods high in energy-providing calories from solid fats and/or added sugars, but contain little to no nutritional value. I even saved this chart to my computer, myself.

Good stuff.

While the website itself is great for navigating your nutrition choices, the USDA has certainly established its presence on all manner of social media, as well. Want to get more interactive with your plate? Take a photo of your ChooseMyPlate inspired meal, and post it in their Flickr Pool (this actually excites me a little, where is my camera??). Want nutrition and food-related news from the government and legislative side? Like the USDA’s page on Facebook. Want tips and healthy eating reminders and resources? Head on over to their Twitter page.

And then there’s the USDA on YouTube, with sundry videos on everything from new food safety cell phone apps to new endeavors taken on by the USDA to help consumers eat, and shop, healthier.

Talk about a cornucopia of information for the nutritionally ambitious. So head on over to wish ChooseMyPlate a happy birthday, and while you’re at it, see what they have to offer. You might learn a thing or two you didn’t know that you didn’t know about your dinner plate.

Eat well, everyone!