From award winning documentaries to daytime TV, agricultural industry practices are a hot topic of discussion and scrutiny in American society. With twenty-first century technology and science revolutionizing the way we access and process information as a nation, it has also ushered in an age of burgeoning health and ethical concerns about where our food comes from. Serious questions are being raised regarding commercial food growth and consumption that are almost impossible to ignore.
What are the long-term effects of ingesting pesticide residues? What are the consequences of exposing livestock to growth hormones? Why does organically grown produce look and taste so different? Where did the produce in my local grocery store come from, and who grew it?
In the modern era of information, many people are finding the answers to these questions to be disconcerting, and are turning to alternative food sources. The growing population of conscientious food consumers has opened up new avenues for local farmers in the United States, who have struggled to find a permanent, sustainable livelihood in American communities in the shadow of a commercialized food industry. The advent of the supermarket in the twentieth century, along with the Great Depression, contributed to an economic decline in local farming and agricultural businesses across the country. During the Great Depression, the farming industry was devastated as crop prices plunged throughout the 1930’s. Supermarkets offered convenient, reasonably priced, one-stop shopping, leaving farmers’ markets as obsolete and costly.
Today, twenty-first century health and ethical issues are giving an economic boost to the growing number of farmers’ and green markets nationwide. Animal activists have spoken out against the abusive treatment of commercially raised livestock for years, which are often injected with antibodies and confined to small cages in large numbers. The infamous 2008 documentary, Food, Inc., sparked the exposure of the U.S. agribusiness as promoting unhealthy food consumption by Americans through utilizing pesticides, growth hormones and steroids in their food production. More and more studies are being conducted regarding the possible adverse side effects of consuming commercial food products, and more people are becoming aware of the risks. Farmers’ markets provide natural, organic food choices, which free health conscious consumers from any anxiety they might have regarding pesticides, steroids or growth hormones. Farmers’ markets also advocate the use of naturally raised, free-range livestock, helping to battle the questionable treatment of commercial livestock.
American obesity is another issue that has risen to prominence in the past decade, and as obesity rates soar, so does the number of obesity related medical problems. The blame for American obesity has fallen on the amount of sugar sweetened sodas and processed foods readily available at every corner, causing children to develop unhealthy eating habits that stick for life. Farmers’ markets offer an alternative to processed foods with a vast variety of locally grown, organic produce. They are a great place for any individual to cultivate a healthy lifestyle for themselves or their family. These markets help to inform shoppers, and combat obesity by exposing adults and children alike to a diverse choice of tasty fresh fruits and vegetables that simply isn’t available at standard supermarkets.
Farmers’ markets are not only for those committed to healthy eating or with moral rectitude. Anyone with taste buds can recognize the difference between local and commercial produce. The commercial produce industry aims for higher yields, disease resistance, an enduring shelf life and round uniformity. Naturally farmed produce may not look as nice as commercial produce, but tastes exponentially better, and isn’t taste what counts when it comes to food? Tim Stark, a successful tomato farmer who is known as “the tomatoman,” realized early in his farming career, “You can fool a lot of folks into eating crap, but they notice the difference immediately when you give them something truly good.” After finding his niche in large farmers’ markets up North, Stark soon realized that as far as shoppers concerned with taste go, “the uglier, more cracked, and more beaten up, the better.” The tomato capital of the United States is located right here in Florida, and is regulated by the Florida Tomato Committee. These commercially farmed tomatoes of Florida are smooth and round, yet practically tasteless when compared to their naturally grown, rougher looking counterparts. As farmers’ markets become more popular, one lesson to be learned is how much people truly appreciate good flavor, and are willing to bypass the convenience of supermarkets to get it. Local farmers are enthusiastic about their produce, and enjoy exposing their community to a true, natural taste at farmers’ markets. Many proud local farmers enjoy sharing stories of their family run farm operations, which boost local economies and provide healthy, tasty food to their communities.
There are a multitude of reasons that farmers’ markets can benefit you and your community. Farmers’ markets have given the American economy a boost by drawing more people into advancing the economic development of communities nationwide through the support of local traders. These markets allow local growers to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance their connection with the community, as they bypass the supermarket supply chain, and provide a more diverse range of products. They also offer an opportunity for individuals to exercise consumer sovereignty in their grocery shopping, something that the supermarket denies. In addition to economic and environmental advancement, many find that farmers’ markets provide a more enjoyable, social shopping experience than the supermarket, and can become a weekly family activity. As the rate of perceived negative aspects of commercial production and consumption grows, farmers’ markets appeal to shoppers as a viable alternative to these conventions. These markets help to increase consumer knowledge about food, and offer a trusted, natural food source. If you are interested in growing your own produce, either as a hobby or in order to cut down grocery costs while still eating healthy, farmers’ markets are a great place to seek advice about home farming.
Jacksonville is home to a number of bustling farmers’ markets that take place in various parts of our city throughout the week. If you are interested in joining the growing number of people who frequent farmers’ markets weekly, here’s some local ones to check out:
Article by Emma Cole
Estabrook, Barry. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit . Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing , 2011. Print.
McEachern, Morven G., et al. "Thinking Locally, Acting Locally? Conscious Consumers And Farmers' Markets." Journal Of Marketing Management 26.5/6 (2010): 395-412. Business Source Complete. Web. 9 June 2014.