BY KENDYL COUNTS
Summer is just around the corner, and that means plenty of free time to unleash your inner foodie. But, before taking a long romantic stroll through the supermarket aisles, consider stopping at the farmer’s market instead – not only does the experience build community by supporting local farmers, but it has environmental and ethical benefits that are often overlooked.
With large agricultural conglomerates monopolizing the food industry, family farms can have difficulty competing with their more dominant counterparts. Additionally, the globalization of agriculture has placed them in direct competition with suppliers from around the world, many of whom are involved in larger corporate initiatives and do not sell directly to consumers. It’s not easy to share the market with big companies like Tyson that have marketing teams and retail deals to help keep them afloat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that slightly less than half of U.S. farms are very small, with annual gross cash farm income under $10,000; in contrast, companies like Tyson are making $37 billion in a single year. Shopping at farmer’s markets supports families whose livelihood depends on community patronage, giving them the business they need to stand a chance against these larger entities.
On top of supporting the community, buying local food can have a global impact. According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), in the United States food travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to table. This transportation process consumes large amounts of nonrenewable fossil fuels, a vital economic energy resource. Conserving fossil fuels as much as possible will help to increase America’s independence from foreign oil providers, as well as prevent the harmful environmental impacts associated coal and oil.
By burning fossil fuels, the automobiles, ships and airplanes used to transport produce emit large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, contributing to environmental problems such as global warming and ocean acidification. CUESA estimates that for every one kilocalorie of energy that humans receive as food, 10 kilocalories of energy were expended in transportation. This means that energy is being used faster than it is being produced – a hallmark of an unsustainable system of agriculture.
At farmer’s markets, most of the food is local, cutting down on the environmental costs and excess processing associated with transporting food across the hemisphere. Instead of burning thousands of miles worth of fossil fuels and producing carbon dioxide along the way, much of the food at the farmer’s market is within a more environmentally sound range.
Shopping for local produce also increases consumer awareness of exactly where food comes from. So, maybe the local farmer’s market doesn’t sell chicken tender subs or barbecue potato chips. But where exactly do these foods come from, anyway? As the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes, this is important information for consumers to be aware of in order to make informed decisions about quality, freshness and nutritional value.
When a consumer is paying for food at a farmer’s market, not only are they paying for the experience and to support local agriculture, but they are also often paying for ethically-sourced foods. Big brands are notorious for housing animals in cramped quarters, applying antibiotics indiscriminately to prevent the spread of disease among their massive numbers of animals and using hormones to artificially speed up the growth and maturation of livestock. Animals involved in the production of local meats, eggs and dairy products don’t face these unethical restrictions and dietary alterations – instead they are given space to roam and diets that suit their natural needs. Without the incentive to mass produce animal products, local farms can provide their animals with a healthier and more humane lifestyle.
It’s easy to take a quick trip to the supermarket and throw items into the cart, indifferent to the impact that they have on family farms, animals or the environment. However, at farmer’s markets, these concerns can be set aside, allowing consumers to enjoy the experience while choosing fresh, sustainable and ethical ingredients for their next meal.
Photo courtesy of Gemma Millings