Our Growing Roots: A Market Analysis
Next time you walk into your local supermarket, take a moment to notice the perfect symmetry of it all. Under the bright fluorescent lights, you’ll find endless rows of neatly packaged foods, ready to eat, easy to prepare, no thought required. A plethora of colors and flashy logos jump out at you, while commercial cartoon characters are strategically placed on cereal boxes and fruit snacks to lure your children into their sugary grasp. Ingredient labels are long and indiscernible and we are often unaware of where in the country or the world these products originated from. The big box grocery store landscape can give us a limited and detached sense of how food and community are related.
Personally, I have always enjoyed the unrefined simplicity of farmers’ markets. I love the atmosphere of small tables draped in mismatched cloth, crates overflowing with fresh fruits and veggies, and the sense of true community. Upon first glance, these joys are simple ones. However, farmers’ markets offer us a unique experience unrivaled by most conventional grocery stores.
The food you purchase at your local farmers’ market hasn’t traveled across the country to reach your plate; it was grown or produced in your own community. Here, you’ll find tomatoes and cucumbers picked just hours before they reach your cutting board, and fresh bread that was kneaded and baked earlier that morning. Most of the food found at farmers’ markets has been grown using sustainable farming techniques that don’t rely on the use of genetic modification, pesticides, or toxic chemicals. This supports environmental health, personal health, and ensures you’re getting the freshest food available.
I just recently discovered that Forest Park in Springfield holds a Farmers’ Market every Tuesday from May through the end of October. A few weeks ago, I decided to check it out despite the rainy weather (yes, these dedicated folks show up every week, rain or shine). Beneath the scattering of tents, we found everything from grass-fed beef from Chicoine Family Farm (Easthampton), raw wildflower honey from The Bearded Bee (Ludlow), okra from The Kitchen Garden (Templeton), and grass-fed milk and cream from Smyth’s Trinity Farm (Enfield). The shining star of our day was the seeded rye we purchased from Berkshire Mountain Bakery (Housatonic), which my children and husband agreed was “the best rye bread” they’ve ever had. Of course we’ve returned each week since to try other varieties, and to check out the ever-changing landscape of the market. Each time we visit, we were pleased to find additional vendors selling everything from beautiful tie-dyed clothing, artisan soaps, and *gasp* maple balsamic dressing!
After we’d returned from one of our trips, I asked the girls to tell me how they would compare the farmers’ market to the grocery store. With mouths already full of raisin bread, they both agreed that running around with the other kids, making new friends, and being able to talk to the farmers is their favorite part of the experience. Sure, they still love the modern convenience of our local supermarkets, but we’ve never returned from a grocery store trip filled with the same sense of community that we do from our local farmers’ markets. So what does this teach us? Perhaps it teaches us that connection isn’t found on the shelves, or in boxes, or in flashy packaging. Connection is found in our communities, in our interactions with others…on mismatched cloth and in overflowing crates on rainy Tuesday afternoons.
For a full list of vendors at the Forest Park Farmers’ Market, visit their website: www.farmersmarketatforestpark.com.
For a complete list of farmers’ markets in Western Massachusetts, visit www.farmfresh.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. In addition to freelance writing, she works as a private practice Mental Health Counselor in Chicopee. Cheryl is passionate about local and organic food. In 2012, she founded GMO Free Massachusetts, a grassroots organization designed to educate consumers about the benefits of an organic lifestyle while empowering people to make informed choices. Cheryl is also an avid theater-goer, a passionate writer, and aspiring playwright.