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Farmer’s Market Fallacies: Why the Produce You’re Buying Isn’t As Good As You Think

Photo courtesy of tasteofhome.com
Photo courtesy of tasteofhome.com

Once the weather warms up, the first thing my mind turns to is all the delicious produce that Michigan has to offer. I have visions of the vivid displays of crisp asparagus, beautiful berries and juicy veggies that my local farmers markets have to offer to my summer plate.

But it’s all a lie.

Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme. However, what many people don’t realize is that in these early summer months of May and June, the produce you find at farmers markets and supermarkets isn’t actually from Michigan at all.

As the seasons change, plants (or, perhaps more accurately, seeds) must adapt to the fluctuating temperature and moisture changes of their environments. The specific temperature and water content levels required will vary from seed to seed, but many are unable to come to full maturity in Michigan until much later in the season. Plants such as tomatoes, corn and berries need up to six weeks into the summer season to come to harvest–about as long as it will take Lake Michigan to warm a degree or two. Because of this seasonality issue, many farmers who rely on farmers markets as a large chunk of their income will ship in produce from California and other states with milder climates to supply customer demand.

So, why wait?

It’s true, you could buy your produce year-round from your local grocery store, and you would probably be able to find almost everything you are looking for at any given time. However, the issues with that are tri-fold:

1. Out of season produce is severely lacking in nutrients.

The time that a plant takes to develop while still in the ground is largely proportional to the amount of nutrients found in the finished produce. For example, the fresh, earthy tomato plant your mother nurtured on the back porch took up to 12 weeks to bud flowers and put out bright red, juicy fruit. However, the red tomatoes which have been shipped across the country were more than likely picked while still green and then chemically treated to last through the long trip. Even organic produce is picked before optimal maturity, which means the plant hasn’t fully developed and the nutrient compounds aren’t complete.

2. Produce shipped in from other states (or even countries) has a much larger carbon footprint.

Think about it. The energy, labor and resources required to cultivate, package, ship and sell produce across many state lines is tens of times higher than that of your local Michigan farmer down the street. Don’t get me wrong, the mass shipment of food worldwide makes nutrition more accessible to all–a benefit I don’t intend to demean. However, buying locally when possible is much more environmentally sustainable.

3. Local farmers suffer when you buy from other sources.

Buying locally is important not only for the freshness, health and overall quality of the product, but also because of the economical impact. When local farmers and businesses are supported by their community, money stays in the area, providing more overall opportunity for growth. Keeping your money in your community helps with everything from taxes to unemployment rates. Not to mention the satisfaction of knowing your local Michigan farm’s story–and being entirely confident in the entire food story, from farm to plate.

If you were to look at our ancestors’ plates, you wouldn’t find zucchini in January or berries in May. There are pros to eating seasonally, including health, taste and economic benefits. As the old saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.” And I, for one, would prefer those things be edible (and delicious). Stay tuned for recipes and tips on how to best use your fresh, local produce!

Photo courtesy of questforrealfood.com
Photo courtesy of questforrealfood.com
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