A great way to cut down on waste created in the supply chain is to forego big box stores when shopping for groceries. Although, there are many places in which good alternatives do not exist, the popularity of farmers markets and the movement towards buying local has created more and more opportunities for one to be in your area.
Though certainly not waste-free, farmers markets help to reduce the overall packaging on produce as most vendors bring their fruits and vegetables gently washed in large boxes or crates and then set about displaying them in the open air. If you choose to peruse the market with your own grocery bags or basket, you end up cutting out all of the excess packaging that would have been created at some point in the supply chain for a large-scale supermarket. +1 point for waste reduction
One of the best farmers markets I’ve ever been to was in Bethlehem, PA. My fiancé was living there for school and a fairly small market set up shop within easy walking distance of his apartment. Whenever I’d be visiting for the weekend, we’d go out and take the scenic stroll down the road and into the grassy patch full of tents of amazing products. As we came back week after week, we started to build relationships with a number of vendors. We’d chat with the mushroom foragers about this week’s haul, and their favorite recipes for cooking with chicken of the woods. The pickle and olive guys were always insanely friendly and somehow managed to pack an incredible amount into our tiny containers. And the pepper people were always asking us about the last week’s order and what we’d managed to do with the ghost peppers we’d picked up (we created an almost inedible meal but it was a fun experiment once our taste buds returned from the brink).
While grocery shopping in a big box store is highly isolating and impersonal, farmers markets are all about cultivating relationships with the people who are responsible for providing / making your food. What better way to choose produce than with the people who know each item inside and out. Even better is once they get to know you, they’ll start making recommendations based off of what you’ve already bought or conversations you’ve had. More often than not, you’ll start to get vendors who are throwing in items for free, or saving you some of the choicest picks just because they know you to be a reliable client who is always up for a chat. +1 for building community
Farmers markets remind us that seasons exist. In a world where you can get any fruit or vegetable any time of the year, it is often a nice reminder that these items are inherently seasonal. While it might be a little less convenient, you can rest assured that the produce at your farmers market has been grown during its optimal time of year for the climate that you live in. Instead of needing crops to be shipped all over the world thereby wasting valuable resources just so that you can have not-as-delicious raspberries in winter, you can shop the highest quality produce from your local area and know that each crop has been harvested at the appropriate time and cost the environment far less to get it to you. +1 for environmental impact
Perhaps the best part of shopping at a farmers market instead of a big box store is the fact that all of the vendors will be local to some degree. These are the people who are an important part of your region’s economy, but are often overlooked in favor of convenience. Why wait for Small Business Saturday to support the little guy when you can do it on a weekly basis from June through October? Shopping local is great not only for the quality of your produce, but it’s also helping to ensure that these supermarket alternative continue to be available to you. The best way to keep small businesses – especially local farms – going is by supporting them and by far one of the easiest and cheapest ways to do that is by stopping by their booth and picking up a few items for your kitchen. +1 supporting local businesses
Reducing waste, building community, having a positive environmental impact, and supporting local businesses all sounds great, but how do you find a farmers market near you? Check out Local Harvest and see what has been listed in your area. If your options are few and far between, check out your local events page on a municipal website as these are often the prime advertisement space for fairs and farmers markets. You can always ask around and see if friends and neighbors have any suggestions for where to shop – you’ll often find that someone somewhere has some good tips for you.
If a farmers market isn’t something you currently have access to, see if you can get involved. Try going to a town hall or send in a pitch to your town’s office. Even better if you can demonstrate a list of local folks who would be willing to support such an event.
Whatever the case may be, just the act of looking for supermarket alternatives is bound to turn up some interesting results and you might end up with a new favorite place to shop.
What’s your favorite thing about farmers markets? Do you have a good story to share about your local vendors? Tell us about it in the comments below!