Farmer's markets and sustainability: Part one

Why Farmer's Markets continue to be a great local choice for getting your groceries.

As many of us know and love, summer is farmer’s market season in Michigan. Farmer’s markets are bustling and numerous throughout the state. Farmer’s markets are one of the most sustainable choice for the Michigan eater. Sustainability is composed of three pillars: social, environmental and economic. Achieving these three pillars in concert is not easy to do; yet, farmer’s markets have had it down to a science since the beginning of their existence.

This is the first part of a two-part series about farmers markets and sustainability. This part focuses on the social and health benefits of shopping at a farmer’s market. As far as expense to the individual is concerned, markets are teaming with food assistance programs to ensure nutritious food is available to every member of the community at a price they can afford. One of the most beneficial programs for people who receive food assistance is the Double Up Food Bucks program. The goal of this program is to encourage people to use their food assistance benefits to support local farms and businesses while increasing their access to fresh fruit and vegetables. To incentivize this, for every two dollars of their typical food assistance dollars spent at the farmer’s market, participants will receive an additional two dollars to spend on Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. For example, if they choose to spend $20 of their benefits at the market, they receive an additional $20 of Double Up Food Bucks to buy fresh, Michigan produce. After all, making a choice affordable is part of the social aspect of sustainability.

According to studies conducted by Cummins, Moore and Morland, locally available food is commonly found to have a positive impact on reducing obesity within a community. An individual’s health maintenance falls into this pillar of sustainability as well. Seasonal, locally sourced, fresh-picked produce has copious health benefits. A study conducted by Morland found that Americans consumed a healthier diet in terms of fruit and vegetables, total fat and saturated fat when in the presence of a local food environment. The former chair of the American Heart Association, Rachel K. Johnson Ph.D., MPH, RD, emphasizes focusing on colors. Eating a rainbow of colors can ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients based on varied phytonutrient content. The University of California, Davis found that phytonutrients, Greek for “plant – nutrients”, are numerous and varied in their benefits on our health. Many of these nutrients are specific to a group of vegetables or fruits with the same color. For example, UC Davis found that strawberries, cherries and red wine (from grapes) sharing the phytochemical “anthocyanins” which can enhance vision, help blood flow and allow us to remove waste from our cells. Leafy green vegetables, broccoli and other cruciferous plants are in a group as well, signified by their deep green color. They provide benefits like defense against free radicles that can cause aging and prevention of certain types of cancers.

Next time you visit your local farmer’s market, make sure you are filling your bags with different colorful, nutritious plants. If you have more questions about food assistance at the farmer’s market, Michigan State University Extension staff will be providing tours and information at farmer's markets throughout Michigan this summer. 

Part two: the benefits of supporting local farmer's markets

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