Producer-Only Farmers’ Markets
The best way to get acquainted or reacquainted with the best real food – food that’s freshly harvested, unprocessed, flavorful, and nutritious – is to buy it directly from farmers, either at on-farm stands or at true producer-only farmers’ markets, markets where vendors must produce what they sell, not buy it wholesale and re-sell it.
At these markets and farm stands, you not only can see, smell, and touch many foods but often taste them, too, and put questions directly to the people who grow it and know more about it than anyone. Most farmers at a farmers’ market are small-scale, independent, family farmers, and they love real food themselves and appreciate our caring enough about it to show up, learn, buy, and enjoy.
No question is too basic, starting with “What is this, and how do you eat it?” if, say, a certain fruit or vegetable isn’t marked or even if it is but you’ve never seen it before.
Seeing new things, things that don’t appear even in the best grocery stores, and learning to enjoy them are among the great things about a farmers’ market – that, and the sheer freshness of produce typically only about 24 hours from harvest. Many farmers make fact sheets about their products and production methods available at markets, along with recipes and recommendations for cookbooks. And many markets include cooking demonstrations to teach ways to cook a range of foods.
To welcome and serve a broad community, the best farmers’ markets help make food accessible to as many people as possible by accepting the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards of those in the federal Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP). Some of these markets also participate in “double dollars” grant programs, which, within limits, match dollar-for-dollar the benefits a SNAP customer spends on produce.
CSAs – “Community Supported Agriculture”
For people whose schedules don’t permit them to shop at farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) agreements with local farmers offer an alternative venue. CSAs vary from farmer to farmer, but generally require customers to subscribe and pay in advance for a certain period of time to receive a certain, weekly quantity of produce. Good ways to find a CSA are searching online or contacting local farmers’ market managers.
To find real food at grocery stores, sticking to the outer aisles is generally the way to find unprocessed fruits and vegetables and meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Most processed foods are shelved in inner aisles.
If you still have reservations about how realistic “real food” is for your lifestyle, keep reading …