butternut squashWandering through a local farmers’market is a wonderful way to find locallygrown produce. It’s a great environment for meeting local growers and learning about how they produce the goods we buy. The Midwest is lucky to have so many family farms working hard to bring to market natural meats, vegetables, cheese, and fruits. We in Indiana have even come up with our own term: Hoosierganic!

Shopping locally has many benefits. In simple terms, our food has fewer miles to travel than most supermarket munchies, thus lowering fossil fuel use and pollution output. Small farms don’t have the need to use as many pesticides and other fertilizers and chemicals and often pride themselves on using none at all. Small farm-raised meat, dairy, and eggs are more likely to come from happy animals than that produced in huge quantities on industrial farms. You are helping to create sustainable farming in your area instead of supporting underpaid farmers in Central America and China by keeping your dollars in your region. Helping to keep passionate farmers and their families on their farms is something you can be happy about, not to mention that you’ll be giving friends and family with whom you share your table more nutritious meals. Many vegetables start losing their nutritional value as soon as they are picked. When supporting the farmers’ market, you are nurturing your family and your community.

Local produce doesn’t have to be picked underripe to survive the grueling trip it has to take to arrive ripe at the big box supermarket in your neighborhood. Think of the locally grown asparagus and strawberries of spring and the tomatoes, sweet corn, and melons of August. They just taste better. Many items grown on large farms are produced for packaging. Fruits from heirloom plants don’t always look as nice and may be bypassed for blander products that ship well and have
great shelf-life, but ultimately underwhelm.

978-0-253-22103-2 farmcover_11The farmers’ market is a great way to become aware of the native foods that are grown in your locale. From foraged mushrooms, wild greens, herbs, nuts, and persimmons to cattails, spice berries, bramble berries, ramps, and watercress, the market offers what supermarkets can’t: local flavor in all its wild beauty.

When traveling, it’s great to visit regional markets. It’s a quick way to discover what the natives eat. What grows locally? Is there a large Asian population? Sometimes, the prepared foods, breads, and dairy products can be exciting discoveries. Whether close by in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, or Kentucky or in faraway places in Europe, Central America, Brazil, or the Caribbean, I always go sightseeing at the local market to see what farm-to-table products will end up on my table that evening.

From FARMfood: Green Living with Chef Daniel Orr is published by Indiana University Press. Recipes and photos by Daniel Orr