Farmers’ markets play important but not exclusive role

I love farmers’ markets. I like the colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, jams and jellies, honey, knick knacks, fresh baked goods and the opportunity to support someone earning a living from a small plot of land.

They remind me of my father and grandfathers, who would never let a spring pass without putting in a big garden and selling a bit of produce as it came in.

I frequent the Denton farmers’ market and several other fruit and vegetable stands around town to pick up fresh tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and tree-ripened peaches. I know those tomatoes and peaches especially taste better than anything I can buy in a grocery store. I don’t buy organic, however. Recent studies have shown those options are not as healthy, nutritious or as sustainable as marketing ploys would have us believe.

Neither do I buy into the hype that locally grown is far and away better than fruits, vegetables and meats we find in supermarkets. Sometimes it is; sometimes maybe not. Others will disagree.

Today, for instance, I received a news release promoting Locavores. That’s folk who eat as much locally grown food as possible, a practice I don’t quibble with, for the most part. But I do take issue with some of the reasons cited for eating locally—sustainability, for instance, or efficiency, cost or improved nutrition.

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The expert quoted, Michael S. Fenster, MD, says local is more sustainable. As with most of these doctors-turned- agriculture specialists, Dr. Fenster is also promoting a book, and I will not assist his effort by naming it. He claims sustainability but offers little evidence. He does insist that knowing where food comes from, ascertaining what it contains and what it does not contain, is a proactive step in determining health and wellness.

Maybe. It’s good to know food sources. But I doubt many farmers’ market customers ever set foot in the fields where the produce they buy locally was produced, so they know as much about these products as they do the ones they buy at the supermarket.

And the big caveat to locally grown is “in-season.” The Denton market, for instance, opens sometime in early spring—and just on Thursdays and Saturdays, I think—and continues into fall. By season’s end, I can still pick up some fresh greens, maybe some sweet potatoes or some late squash. The peaches are long gone, as are the tomatoes. If I want something that resembles a tomato or a peach I go to the grocery knowing I will be disappointed.

I’m not certain the delivery system is much more efficient than trucking produce from Florida or California, either. This small market can’t supply every home in Denton with fresh produce, not even in-season. And refrigerated trucks from The Lower Rio Grande Valley, Florida, California and the East Coast may be as efficient as trucking a few items to town twice a week.

Dr. Fenster also contends that eating locally saves money. Not certain he can support that claim, either. I don’t notice a lower price for the fresh tomatoes I buy at the market compared to what I pay for the less tasty ones I’d get at the grocery store. But they are worth the difference.

I’ve found that most of these claims, the books, the lectures, the blogs, are thinly veiled attacks on conventional agriculture. And that’s what I find most disturbing. I appreciate the effort the farmers’ market vendors make to grow, transport and sell fresh produce. I support their efforts. I enjoy chatting with them about how they grow things.

But I also support large-scale agriculture and take issue with anyone who claims that their efforts are any less noble.


TAGS: Vegetables
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