I just got back from my weekly (when I’m not on call) trip to the farmer’s market. I’m going to try to convince you why buying food at a farmer’s market should be a regular habit for any medical student or resident (although I think it applies to everyone else, too).
What the heck is a farmer’s market?
In general, farmer’s markets are open air markets where local farmers bring their food to sell. They usually take place once a week (often on Saturdays).
Just to give you an example – this is the market I go to most often in Houston:
How do I find out where they are?
The best way is to search the internet for your city. Local harvest is a web site that covers most farmer’s markets, but there may be smaller (and possibly more convenient) markets in your city that aren’t listed here: http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/
If it doesn’t look like there is a farmer’s market near you, another option is to buy a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If you buy into a CSA you will pick up a fairly large quantity (usually a good sized box) of whatever is being grown at the time – usually once a week. If you can find a group of friends to split this with, its a great option. http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
What should I do to look cool if I’ve never been to a farmer’s market before?
Bring your own bags. This isn’t an absolute requirement, but it’s much cooler than relying on the vendors. They often have small paper or plastic bags, but it will be easier if you bring your own. In the big picture, you should do this no matter where you shop (good environmental karma!). Fortunately, the “give away” bags at medical meetings are perfect for this! A lot of grocery stores sell reusable shopping bags or you can find them on the internet. I’m not endorsing this particular site, but here’s an example: http://cheaptotes.com/canvas_tote_bag_8.html
Bring cash. I’ve seen some people writing checks, but don’t count on it. I’ve never seen a way to pay with a credit card at any farmer’s market.
Does it cost more?
Yes (but not a lot more). But don’t let that stop you! Value isn’t always measured by money – even if you are poor student or resident. It’s not going to be a lot more and it’s completely worth it. (see below)
If it costs more and it takes more time, why should I bother?
The food absolutely and unequivocally tastes better. The first time I bought potatoes at a farmer’s market was a revelation for me. I knew that tomatoes and peaches would be better, but I had no idea that a potato would be in the same category. The produce you buy at a farmer’s market was in the ground (usually) less than 24 hours ago. It is incredible how much better it tastes!
The food is probably better for you. Most farmer’s markets sell organic or near organic food. There’s good data that organic plants are higher in many nutrients and it’s intuitively obvious that avoiding pesticide residues on your food should be beneficial. http://www.healthy-eating-made-easy.com/advantages-of-organic-foods.html
You’ll eat with the seasons. There are no data that this is better for you, but it really makes sense. If nothing else, it will taste better and you’ll be helping the environment by not eating things that travelled thousands of miles to get to you.
You’ll get to know the people growing your food. This sounds trivial, but it’s really cool. You can ask them about how they grow the food, and you’ll hear stories about what’s happening on their farms. One of my favorite vendors has great pictures and stories about her farm which she also shares on Facebook and her website: http://blueherontexas.com/. There is also something intangible (but cool) in knowing that someone (not just a big corporation) cares enough to grow your food.
The farmer’s market is a once a week “sanity break”. You are outside, surrounded by beautiful food and happy people. At the market I usually go to, there is always some live music, too. It’s a great experience and, combined with the fact that you are doing something healthy for yourself, it’s a once a week mood changer!