When was the last time you shopped at a farmers market? If it’s been days or weeks, good for you — keep up the healthy shopping and eating. If it’s been longer, make plans today for a stroll through your neighborhood’s next farmers market. Buying fresh produce and meat at a farmers market versus getting it from a supermarket is a win-win-win: for your health, for area farmers and for your community. Here are just a few reasons why you should put visiting a farmers market on your family’s “to-do” list:

Farmers market food tastes better and can be better for you

“One of the biggest plusses for shopping at a farmers market is being able to find locally grown or sourced foods in season,” says Diadra Harnden, RDN, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at College Park Family Care Center in Overland Park, KS. “Just-harvested produce can be fresher tasting and higher in nutrient content than those available commercially, which have been picked before ripeness occurs and shipped across the country.”

If organically grown produce is important to you, check to make sure that your local farmers market requires vendors to state whether the product is homegrown or previously purchased, and lists the place of origin, Harnden recommends. “Some foods may be USDA Certified Organic, which meets growing and production standards set by the government, but many small farmers practice organic farming techniques without being certified. They’re usually happy to tell you about it if you ask!”

Also, look for opportunities to buy grass-fed or pastured beef, pork, turkey and chicken, or pastured dairy products. Animals that are allowed to eat their natural diets (such as grass or insects) will often produce meat, eggs and milk higher in omega-3s and other beneficial nutrients and will usually be lower in toxins than commercially farmed products.

If you or a family member has a dietary restriction, farmers markets will often allow you to find harder to source replacements for problem foods — such as fresh goat’s milk or sheep’s milk cheeses. “Farmers markets benefit their communities by providing an opportunity for customers to form relationships with local companies which provide specialty foods, such as a gluten-free bakery,” says Harnden. “And of course, a well-stocked farmers market also can offer new or unusual foods to try if someone has significant restrictions to his or her diet.”

Farmers markets support your community

Eating local directly supports family farms and new farmers in your area. If a farmer’s prices seem a bit higher than grocery store prices, know that the farmers market prices reflect the true cost of food. Every step of the growing process — planting seeds, weeding, watering, harvesting — costs money. “Family farms are becoming rarer in our modern society and operate on tight margins,” Harnden observes. “By supporting local farms, we help those producers to do what they love. They’ll be able to continue selling (often) superior products and in some cases, maintain certain lost arts of farming or food making.” 

Many farmers enjoy talking about the food they bring to market. So if you’re wondering how to store that bunch of carrots, just ask. And what do you do with those beet greens still attached to the beets? You’ll find out that and more by asking. Many farmers market stalls dispense recipes for getting the tastiest meals from what they sell or will offer cooking tips. And how fulfilling it is to put a real person’s face and name to the food you put on your family’s dinner table!

Farmers markets are fun!

Visiting a farmers market can be a fun and educational experience for your whole family, especially the kids. “Involving your family in purchasing foods at the source allows children to realize that our foods come from farms, not grocery stores,” Harnden says. “The experience of seeing available foods changing as the season progresses provides a clearer answer as to why strawberries cost a fortune in January or why citrus fruits taste best in the winter. It allows kids to see vegetables in their natural state — dusty, unwaxed, sometimes imperfect, but always colorful and enticing nonetheless. Connecting to a food’s origin enriches the eating experience and the appreciation for the people behind it. And don’t forget, a farmers market is a perfect opportunity to pick up a ‘weird’ vegetable or fruit and try it.”

Summer is an ideal time to experience the farmers market in your community, and many of them operate year-round, so it’s easy to continue visiting them regularly. Why not start today?