Think about all the items you put in your cart at the supermarket or mega-store. Do you feel you paid a fair price for that product? If you have questions about a particular item, would you know who you could speak to for answers? Where did those potatoes come from, how old is that carton of eggs, and who is being supported by your hard earned dollars? Probably not local farmers.
Chances are, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get satisfactory answers to those questions when you buy food at any grocery store. However, when you buy from local farmers, it’s a completely different story.
The following are some reasons why you should support your local farmers whenever possible.
Prices from local farmers
With a big family that includes three teenage girls and two preteen boys, keeping everyone fed at my house is certainly a challenge. Just to make a taco dinner usually requires 4 pounds of ground beef to fill everyone’s belly. With the average price of $3.99/lb for ground chuck, that is $15.96 for just one element of one meal! Yikes! One homemade taco dinner could easily total over $35!
Obviously the grocery bill could quickly get out of hand if the average meal totaled that high every night. Fortunately for my family, we are able to purchase a half beef every spring for an average cost which costs far less than what can be found at the grocery store. Even better, this low cost not only applies to ground beef. We enjoy savings on all wonderful things beef, such as steaks, ribs and roasts. Honestly, without the benefits of buying from local farmers, my family would be eating a lot of Ramen noodles and five-dollar pizzas.
Buying local, though, isn’t always the cheapest way to go, since they are not factory farms that rely on artificial growth hormones and unnatural living conditions for the animals in order to maximize profits. Call local farmers directly, ask about their livestock, what they are fed, and their prices in order to determine what will best fit your family’s needs and budget.
If the price of a side of beef, for example, seems outrageous, be sure to figure how many meals will be made from the meat, and you may find, like I did, that it really is the best way to go, and the least expensive.
Get answers from local farmers
Of course, there are many other benefits of buying from local farmers other than just price. Buying local means I can talk to the farmers about the feed and medicines used for the market beef we purchase. Many facilities will take you back to see where the animal was raised. If I wish, I can speak to the actual human being who was in charge of raising the animal that feeds my family. Information about any chemicals that were sprayed on my vegetables is also available. Questions abut genetic modification can be asked and many farms offer recipe suggestions. Farmers love to discuss their products and they should. They invest hours, days and months to get their products perfect for purchase!
A good way to talk with several farmers at once is at a farmer’s market. At one I attended, I had the opportunity to chat with a local beef farmer and learned a great deal about how beef is categorized and the challenges he faces raising his cattle. He was a wealth of information that helped me decide what I wanted to buy.
In the summer, I can buy produce directly from roadside markets. Nothing makes me feel more like a domestic goddess than selecting fruits and vegetables so fresh you have to shake the dirt off. How rewarding it is to rummage through the baskets and bins of product and selecting ears of fresh sweet corn or the perfect melon. I do not have to worry about another hurried patron with shopping cart road rage pressuring me along.
From these produce stands, I can see the fields of crops being handpicked and brought by the bushelful to the small, family-owned stands. Many times, these farms allow you to pick your own produce for an even cheaper rate. The family farmers are usually on site and although extremely busy, they’re usually willing to answer questions about the fruits of their labor. By purchasing from local farmers, you help keep tradition alive. Many farmers today are third or fourth generation or even greater! This is a great reason to support local farmers whenever possible because the small, family-owned farm is an endangered lifestyle and one I want to support when I can.
Create memories for your children
The two farms located on each side of the small town where I live have been there as long as I can remember. I have memories of going to the north farm with my grandma and picking up bushels of cabbages and tomatoes. She would buy one bushel of tomatoes just for the family to eat that afternoon and a couple others for canning and stewing. When I was younger, I remember sitting under the shade of the big pear tree in the front yard and grabbing tomatoes straight from the bushel. I was eating them like apples with my grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. Grandma would round up the entire family to go pick strawberries from the south side farm. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating them right out the little green quart containers.
It is important to take our children to local farms and let them see how the food gets to the table. With the convenience of supermarkets and online shopping, little ones today might not grasp the concept of farming that may be a common mindset to older generations. Ask a farmer to talk to them or even show them around. A farm can be an exciting place with tractors, bright and beautiful colors of the produce and all the hustle and bustle of the workers planting, sorting or harvesting.
Local economic support
It is a rewarding feeling knowing the money you spend in your community stays in your community. Fresh produce at prices often lower than what is found in grocery stores is certainly a perk of shopping local farms. Supporting these local farms is important for the livelihood of our community as well. Both of the farms in our town have been in operation for as long as I can remember and are an important pillar of our local economy. Each farm provides summer employment to many local teens and adults needing a seasonal job or supplemental income.
Be sure to shop, though, at peak season for the best prices for you, and help farmers get rid of their produce at just the time they likely have huge harvests to move.
There’s nothing like the taste
Food grown in its ideal season and picked at the perfect point of ripeness tastes much better than product mass-produced in a greenhouse in the off season. Of course this is a matter of opinion, but I am confident that the majority will agree.
The one item I can tell a vast difference in taste between prime season and off season is tomatoes. Nothing is better than fresh tomatoes off the vine. Image those warm, juicy and flavorful tomatoes sliced for that charbroiled cheeseburger, diced and mixed with fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil for that perfect bruschetta topping or cut in chunks for that garden fresh salad. Nothing beats tomatoes at their prime. Personally, I think tomatoes grown in the off season with manufactured growing processes generally result in a waxy, flavorless tomato-like substitute.
Buying produce from local farmers’ markets and roadside stands generally means you are getting an amazingly fresh product. Often times, produce is picked in the early morning and delivered straight to the stand for sale that same day. When produce is picked at the peak of freshness, the nutritional value is also at its peak. Each day that produce is off the vine, tree, plant, etc., the nutritional value, as well as taste, decreases.
Think about the produce in big markets and find out where it comes from. Grocery stores carry tomatoes from Mexico and bananas from Brazil. Much of our produce comes from afar. Even with today’s sophisticated logistic methods, the produce you buy at chain stores and larger markets could be days old by the time you put it in your cart. Some industrialized farms harvest produce, like tomatoes, while they are still green so they do not bruise or spoil in transit. Distribution partners then use gas to ripen them for market! Not only is the product picked before it reaches its nutritional peak, but the product itself is not up to par when compared with from field to table product.
Small farms across the land are what helped build our nation. Hard working folks work 365 days a year growing and raising food the old-fashioned and natural way are finding it hard to keep their farms running. Often the consumer dollar is thrown toward mega-marts and superstores. Why not support local farmers? You can take advantage of the better taste, price, nutritional value and other intangible gifts of those delicious fruits, veggies, meat and eggs!
As they say, “On the eighth day, God created the farmer.”