By Laura Peterson
What would happen if all of us started buying our food directly from local farmers? Well, first of all we could have everything from vegetables to meats to dairy stocked in our tiny urban kitchens. Our food would be farm fresh and loaded with flavor and nutrients. We’d become healthier and probably lose weight. We’d also be saving the planet by preserving local agriculture and conserving fuel. So what are you waiting for? Get thee to the farmers market!
Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, “Yeah, sure… easier said than done. I don’t live anywhere near Union Square!” Oh my dear readers, if you think farmers markets are few and far between in this great city, then prepare to have your food-shopping world rocked. The Council on the Environment of New York City, (CENYC) a privately funded citizens’ organization in the Mayor’s Office, manages 54 markets in 40 locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island. CENYC’s Greenmarket Program has organized and managed open-air farmers markets in NYC since 1976, and has given small family farmers throughout the region the opportunity to sell their fruits, vegetables and other farm products to us city folk. Most of the markets operate seasonally from June through November, coinciding with the crops, but 23 markets in 15 locations operate year-round. (See below for links to the CENYC’s website and the list of market locations.)
If you want to get even more involved in supporting local farmers, consider joining or even starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. It’s not as difficult as you may think, thanks to organizations like Just Food (www.justfood.org). Just Food helps to partner regional farmers with people here in the city, so the farmers have a direct line to their customers and the customers have direct access to farm-fresh food. As described on the Just Food website, “the CSA farmer sells shares in her/his farm’s upcoming harvest to individuals, families or institutions. The share price goes toward the cost of growing and distributing a season’s worth of produce and paying the farmer a living wage.” Then every week from June to November, the farmers travel into the city to deliver their harvest to numerous distribution stations, where the shareholders collect their veggie shares for the week. A typical shares-worth of food consists of 7-10 types of vegetables; enough for a family of 2-3 people.
If you are a picky eater though, stick with the farmers markets. When you join a CSA, you get whatever is in season. There’s no special ordering to get just the veggies you like. CSA’s do support veggie trading, where shareholders who love broccoli but hate beets can put their beets in a trading bin and hope that someone else that loves beets will also happen to hate broccoli and put their broccoli in the bin, but if you are way too picky about your veggies, it doesn’t make sense to go the CSA route.
So what about the organic produce at your local supermarkets and Whole Foods? Well, start reading labels and find out where their produce comes from. Corporate supermarkets (which Whole Foods is, by the way) need to be concerned with bottom line profits, so organic produce is coming from the cheapest farmers, which are often international. It doesn’t mean the food is bad; it’s just not local or fresh. Nor is it earth-friendly. What do I mean by that? Well consider this: Americans consume over 19 million barrels of oil per day. More than 70% of that is for transportation. I’m sure we can venture a guess as to how much of that fuel is used to ship food around the country in those big trucks. California produce, which you see plenty of in your supermarket, takes ten days to two full weeks just to travel across country. That bears repeating. Ten to fourteen days from the time it is harvested until it gets to your market. Then figure how much time it spends sitting there in the market, waiting to go to a good home. Then factor in the time it spends hanging out in your fridge’s crisper waiting for you to prepare it and eat it. It’s no wonder NYC kids don’t like their broccoli – it’s rotten!
And don’t even get me started on the meat! Seriously. Don’t get me started.
As one of my heroes, Dr. Marion Nestle (Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University) always says, “Vote with your fork!” Don’t like the idea of two week old broccoli? Let your supermarket know by not buying it, and support your local farmers by shopping with them. Not thrilled about ingesting antibiotics with your chicken? Let Mr. Perdue and his sickly yellow chickens know how you feel by never spending another dime on those products. In case you haven’t realized this, our nation’s policies follow the path of the green – MONEY! Where the money goes, the political attention will go. So, when you buy from local farmers, you’re making a political statement. And this way, you don’t even have to write a letter to your congressman.
Perhaps the nicest part of shopping the farmers markets or joining a CSA is the weekly interaction with the farmers. Maybe it’s just me, but being handed my food by the people that planted, nurtured and harvested is an amazing part of the whole food experience. It’s so… natural. When I stop to think about all of the hands that touch the food in the supermarkets, from the farmers to the truck drivers to the store personnel to the various shoppers… ok, I’m getting nauseous.
Here’s my recommendation for all of you: Give your local farmers market a try. Go with a friend and browse for a while to check out all of the interesting and delicious options. Pick up a couple of standard favorites and give one or two new foods a try. Talk to the farmers and ask where they came in from. Ask if they have any recipes or recommendations for ways to prepare the foods. Go home and make yourself a great and easy meal. Taste the difference between farm-fresh and supermarket-aged. Consider the benefits of making that trip to the market a weekly event. Go to sleep that night knowing you made your own body and the planet a better place!
To find a farmers market near you, please check the CENYC website: http://www.cenyc.org/HTMLGM/maingm.htm
To learn more about New York City CSA, go to www.justfood.org.
To have your mind blown by the courageously outspoken Marion Nestle, check out her website: www.foodpolitics.com or her books “Food Politics”, “Safe Food”, and “What To Eat,” all available through her website or www.amazon.com.