What are the benefits of local Farmers Markets versus large grocery chains and big box stores?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-There are a number of benefits of utilizing local farmer’s markets versus large grocery chains and big box stores. For one thing, produce shoppers are interested in freshness rather than lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables that have been harvested too soon and have been sitting in vegetable and fruit bins longer than they should have been which contributes to lower nutritional value, freshness and taste.

Farmers markets usually offer more bang for the buck and the flavor of fresh fruit and vegetables is what brings consumers back to open markets as opposed to grocery and other stores that sell produce. Shoppers love home grown as opposed to grocery store produce. They realize that most grocery store produce has traveled thousands of miles before it arrives at stores in unripe condition.

Home grown farmers tell consumers that fruit and vegetables that are picked green and sent to super markets are preserved in different ways, which keeps them looking fresh for weeks. Early harvesting not only causes loss of freshness but, again, nutritional value. Most farmer’s markets receive their produce from local farms that have the fruits and vegetables there long before spoilage time is a factor.

Yes, farmer’s markets can have higher prices on certain fruits and vegetables, but growers try to stay competitive with grocery stores as local produce providers don’t have anyone, the middle man, getting in the way of the transit from the farm to the market. In the long run, consumers that use farmer’s markets are getting a better deal because of the quality of the produce.

The only problems that local providers encounter are bad weather conditions and transportation costs, which do drive up prices at both the farmers’ market level and with grocery stores as well. With lack of water and major droughts being factors as well as fluctuating gas prices and labor costs, there is no doubt that prices will rise for both local farmers markets and grocery stores.

Depending on the kinds of fruits and vegetables, prices will usually vary because of total growing and distribution costs along with rarity and demand for certain produce. More easily grown and harvested fruits and vegetables will remain steadier in price; whereas, more costly produce will vary in price. For example, berries can be expensive and something like a pound of blackberries at a farmer’s market can go for close to four dollars while grocery stores carry smaller containers at two to three dollars a pound.

There is something special about local farmer’s markets. People can enjoy looking at something fresh in an open and relaxing atmosphere, which is a much more pleasant environment than a grocery or big box store. It is also nice to know that shoppers are supporting local growers that usually provide produce that is organic and, for the most part, free of pesticides or chemicals.

Yes, sometimes prices are lower through discount grocery stores and many times the produce there can be fresh, particularly if a store utilizes locally grown and organic produce providers. It is just a matter of comparison shopping and deciding whether you want predominately fresh produce through a farmer’s market that is in your locale or gambling on finding fresher, less expensive produce in a discount type grocery or big box store close to home. If freshness and nutritional value are the determiners, then farmer’s markets have the edge, and if lower prices with iffy to possible freshness are the determiners, then the grocery or big box store gets the nod. Consumers will likely continue to be divided on the issue.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Spring is in full swing around the country, and that means farmer’s markets are reopening for the season, stocked with all the freshest produce and locally made products your locality has to offer. If you think of a farmer’s market as a couple of weatherbeaten farmers presiding over bins of tomatoes, corn and squash, it’s time to get out of the grocery store and get “back to the farm.”

Here in my little North Carolina town, there are a good half-dozen markets within an easy drive on any given weekend. This time of year, the strawberries are in season, and one bite will cure you of ever buying the overly hybridized grocery store varieties, which are engineered for durability and longevity, rather than sweetness and flavor. As the season goes on, the strawberries will give way to blueberries, then peaches, then blackberries and sometimes, if Mother Nature allows, a second crop of strawberries late in the year.

But beyond the produce, there’s another world of comestibles to discover. Again at my local markets, I can find freshly baked breads in varieties from challah and sourdough to tomato-basil and spent grain, made from the grain left over after beer is brewed. A local goat farm markets amazing cheeses, soaps and skin creams. Ranchers sell grass-fed beef, free-range chickens and turkeys and even more exotic fare like goat and rabbit. My sons have become spoiled to the farm-fresh eggs, with their rich, deep yellow yolks, and the breakfast sausage made by a local hog farm.

I know this may seem like a small issue given the challenges our country is facing, but you’re directly supporting local businesses by patronizing farmer’s markets, and taking a stand for local producers whose work supports not just their own families, but those of their workers. Plus, the stuff just TASTES better!

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-There’s always noise about where to source vegetables and fruits. If I could, I’d pretty much get everything I needed at the local farmer’s market. I’ll tell you why in a quickie so you can understand where I’m coming from.

The taste doesn’t compare. When you buy vegetables and fruits from a local farmer’s market, you get to enjoy the produce. In most cases, as fruits and vegetables are picked directly from the vine and put out for sale, they taste much better. Produces that are sent to grocery chains and big box stores take quite some time to get to their designated locations (even traveling an average of 13 hundred miles).

To ensure that produces aren’t spoilt by the time of arrival, they’re picked from the vine before they’re able to ripe. Once fruits and vegetables aren’t allowed to ripe on the vine, they taste much different.

There’s also the issue of freshness. I find that farmer’s market produce fresher vegetables and fruits than these grocery chains. If you’ve previously shopped at the grocery store you’ll see what I mean. I went in recently to get some strawberries and I came out empty-handed because it seemed as if those strawberries spent a lifetime on the shelf.

Local framer’s markets also save me money. The money I’d pay for a dozen oranges would actually triple if I’m supposed to even buy 3 at a grocery store.

Can you relate to my dilemma? I’m sure you can. Buying at a local framer’s market is definitely a win-win for me, as they taste way better, I get refresher produce, and for a cheaper price.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-The phrase “buy local” has gained popularity in the past few decades as big box retailers like Walmart have hastened the demise of small-town retail businesses. So, it’s logical that the buy local philosophy eventually extended to food. The organic food movement seems to be the catalyst in large cities as more and more people become aware of the health benefits of avoiding chemically treated food and genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The number one benefit of local farmers’ markets is, of course, the fact that when you buy fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market, it’s entirely possible a friend or neighbor is trading his food for your money. That cash stays within the local economy instead of adding to the profits of a large supermarket chain.

Freshness and quality are two other benefits of local buying. Produce often comes from distant countries like Chile, New Zealand, or Mexico, and takes days or even weeks to be shipped here. Even getting produce from Florida or California takes time. It’s very likely that the products you purchase at a farmers’ market were harvested within twenty-four hours of purchasing. Produce for export is grown and harvested knowing it will travel for a long time before reaching the market. It is often picked before ripening or treated somehow (like apples that are sprayed with a light coating of wax to slow the loss of moisture). The quality of that produce often pales in comparison to local produce that is harvested and sold at the peak of ripeness.

A final benefit is the sense of community often found at farmers’ markets. Many vendors have sold their products for years, even decades, and have loyal customers who give them repeat business. As mentioned before, vendors are usually friends or neighbors, so farmers’ markets also serve as a social gathering place where family news is shared along with local gossip, politics, and general news. Farmers’ markets help build and maintain communities as opposed to large retailers that tend to have the opposite effect.

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