We are always concerned about food – it is a natural thing to do. However, the focus of our concerns are changing gradually. We are more and more concerned about the food quality issues rather than the food quantity issues. Many of us are worried about industrialized agriculture, and we miss the good old days when family farms were ubiquitous. Farmers market, the modern imitation of the traditional food exchange scheme, contributes to a broader culture – the community.
Purchasing food from farmers market has many environmental, nutritional, and social benefits.
1. Food that you purchase from the farmer’s market are generally locally produced. Local food travels fewer miles for you to purchase (most of the times), and much energy is thus saved. [Data]
2. Many smaller local farms are devoted supporter of genetic diversity. Since they work in a relatively small scale, they are able to grow many different varieties and practice crop rotation promptly.
3. Farmers take care of their land, while industries utilize their land. This fundamental difference determines that less environmental degradation is likely to occur at smaller local farms. [Read More]
Locally produced food often tastes better because they are fresher and more nutritious. Fruits and vegetables are generally picked in season and in time, and shorter transportation preserves the freshness. Moreover, farm-processed food, such as cheese, contains minimum chemical additives and is made with fresh ingredients.
1. Local farmers care much about their reputation, and thus they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously.
2. Farmers market connects eaters and growers. It also helps you to form connections among the seasons, the land, the community, and the food.
Although purchasing food from local farmers market appears to be a more environmental-friendly choice, there are some concerns associated with this option.
The distance that food travels from farm to plate is certainly important, but so is how food is transported to market. If a farmer sells his products in several farmers markets, he transports relatively small amount of products by small truck, which is significantly less efficient than transporting much by train. If he does this various times for each individual market, the “greenness” of his products is discounted. [Read More]
Moreover, as more people become enthusiastic about the quality of local food, more families are likely to drive miles to farmers market even if there are grocery stores that are closer to them. Thus the energy consumption on transportation increases. On the other hand, less energy may be used for transporting food to grocery stores or producing non-local food. Therefore, many factors of energy consumption will be changed if local food becomes more and more popular, and the real budget of energy remains uncertain because it is hard to take all the factors into account.
The number of the farmers market increases significantly over the past decades. There was only 300 farmers markets in 1994. Now there are more than 8000 of them. [Data]
So, is it true that consuming locally produced food is becoming the new food culture? Not necessarily. Culture represents the common mindset of a certain group of people. For consuming local food to become the new food culture, significant amount of people should commit to eating locally and seasonally. Fast food culture needs to be abandoned, and new dining systems have to be built. Such changes require time, and enthusiastic demand for local food is just a start.
Moreover, once farmers market become popular in a larger scale, more strict formal regulation and legislation are required to ensure food security and fair trade. However, considering the characteristics of farmers market, which are small-scaled, community-oriented, and reputation-regulated, whether current regulation system works for farmers market remains uncertain.
For example, responding to the expanding business of farmers market, the Canadian government has new interim rules about what can count as local food. The new rules change the definition of local food from “food that is produced within 50 kilometres of where it’s sold” to “any food grown within that particular province or 50 kilometres from the province”. It is obvious that this new rule redefines “community” so that farmers in different geological regions will not be disadvantaged for lack of resources or ideal climatic conditions. However, this new rule is also widely criticized for possible bias. [Read More]
“Does the government ever make sense? Tomatoes grown in a Windsor greenhouse can be trucked 1,300 kilometres to Thunder Bay and be called local, but tomatoes grown 60 kilometres east of Ottawa are not local?” – Michael P. Robb [Quote]
As we can see, there are many realistic issues associated with turning consuming local food into a new food culture.
In general, increasing demand in local food is definitely a indication of growing environmental concerns. People are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the quality of food. There are many benefits associated with consuming locally produced food, but the concerns involved are not negligible. I encourage you to evaluate comprehensively the costs and benefits of your own food choice; just remember, “you are what you eat” and “we only get one Earth”.