Agri Leader

Come prepared for farmers markets this summer

Central Florida's Agri-LeaderThe spring and summer months are perhaps the best time of year to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. While these foods can be found at your local grocery store, you might want to consider visiting a local farmers market. There are several large markets in Polk County that have a large number of vendors who grow their own produce. In Lakeland, you donít have to get out of the city limits to find fresh foods. The Farmers Curb Market is open every Saturday in downtown Lakeland from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This market features over 50 vendors who offer plants, produce and craft items to the public. Shopping at a local farmers market is one way to support local growers and contribute to economic growth in your county. Small family owned farms are struggling to stay afloat in this economy as large agribusiness farms take over food production in the United States. When you buy from local growers, you will help them grow their business while you enjoy delicious fresh foods. Many times produce is less expensive at a market than what you buy in a grocery store. Browsing around a farmers market will also give you time to chat with growers about their cultural practices. Taking your children to meet local farmers will give them an idea of how and where their food is grown. It is also a lot more enjoyable to shop outdoors on a sunny day than in an artificially lit grocery store.
Transporting food from long distances to your grocery store takes its toll on our environment. Shipping requires the use of huge amounts of precious natural resources such as fossil fuels, which increases pollution. Fruits and vegetables grown locally are shipped short distances and are fresh on arrival. This lessens the negative impact on our environment. Locally grown produce is often better for our bodies than the highly processed foods found in grocery stores. Pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones are used the production of commercial produce. Because produce must survive the shipping process, it is usually waxed and irradiated, as well. You will find that local growers pride themselves in healthy growing practices and give their food crops important nutrients during the growing process. While many local growers are not certified organic, they often still use organic growing practices. These growers welcome an opportunity to talk with their customers and answer their questions. Many local farmers markets have websites that provide detailed information about seasonal crops and sustainable agriculture that will educate and enlighten you. Some websites also feature recipes that you can try after purchasing fresh food, so be sure to check that out as well. When you visit your local farmers market, come prepared to get the most out of your shopping experience. It gets hot as midday approaches in central Florida, so be sure to get out early. Since crowds generally swell just before noon, you will have a better selection of produce early in the morning. Most markets do not allow pets to come along, so check the marketís website before you go or leave your pets at home. Farmers typically do not have large bills on hand to make change, so bring small bills to spend. To avoid spoilage, pack a cooler to store perishables while you shop. This way, you donít have to rush for fear of losing items you just purchased. You might find more than just fruits and vegetables at your local market. Many markets have vendors that sell bread, homemade pasta, jam and cheese. Make a grocery list before you leave for the market to ensure you donít forget important ingredients to recipes. Consider buying in bulk to save money. It is more cost effective to purchase an entire flat of strawberries than a pint or two. You can freeze them or make preserves to use all year long. Visiting your local farmers market will be fun and break up your typical grocery routine. You might find you enjoy the taste of fresh, unprocessed foods more than what you normally purchase. Take the whole family for an outing that is sure to be both educational and enjoyable. By working together, we can support our own community and invest in the growers that provide us with healthy foods.