Taking Root #23

Farm Markets vs. grocery stores

By Gini Bramlett

For the Calapooia Food Alliance

As a vendor at the Brownsville Farmer’s Market, I have learned a few things over the past couple of years. One is that most people don’t really understand what they’re eating. They buy produce at chain grocery stores that get vegetables and fruits often from far-away places; California, Mexico, South American countries and even Asia and the middle east.

Most are also laden with chemicals to hasten growth, eliminate pests (good pests too, which is another subject entirely) and diseases. Another issue is they are bred for longevity to withstand long storage conditions and lengthy transportation times, sacrificing flavor and nutritional value.

This widely-adopted method of growing food can also change texture. I’ll give you an example; my husband’s aunt and uncle live in San Diego, and told us about following a large produce truck on the freeway laden with tomatoes. Hitting a bump, a handful flew out of the truck and literally bounced their way across the pavement settling on the roadside, intact. Sad but true.

I remember playing war in a local farmer’s tomato field as a child in Wisconsin (not proud of it, but it happened). We’d throw them at each other at close range, and they splattered like water balloons, drenching us with rich, red juice from our heads to our toes, proving my point that today’s tomatoes look and taste and feel more like rubber balls than anything that resembles real tomatoes.  

Try buying tomatoes at your local farmer’s market, compare and see the difference. You won’t go back.

These produce-like foods might look perfect and beautiful on the shelves, but what is it really doing for your overall health and well being? Probably very little at best, and may even be detrimental overall.

Now, let’s talk about local, organic produce that can be obtained in your own back yards or at any local farm market in Linn County. Most of our towns, large and small, have a weekly farmer’s market offering freshly harvested organic foods, including nuts of all kinds, honey, meats/poultry, jams/jellies/relishes, cheeses, and of course, common and not-so-common fruits, vegetables and berries. These are raised right here in our very own communities by farmers and growers who live here.

Growers of organic produce are passionate about what they do, and put their heart into making certain that what they sell is both healthy and delicious. If you’re not convinced the taste of freshly-harvested organic vegetables is quantum leaps over grocery store types, try a taste test sometime.

My husband and I have been taste-testing produce and other foods for years. It is startling to find that what you thought was so great, is really mediocre compared to what you might find at farmer’s markets.

Carrots are a good example. Since I began growing carrots some years ago, I barely tolerate some store-bought carrots’ bland and sometimes even bitter taste, and am often seriously disappointed. I can vouch for the flavor of locally grown carrots by the children who beg their parents to buy them at our market. Kids know what they like, and the huge smiles on their faces with that first bite, verifies my belief in homegrown.

We have certainly lost sight of what fresh, organic produce really tastes like. I firmly believe that over time we have learned to accept what is being sold in stores, and are blind to what produce is supposed to taste like.

Granted, during winter months, I (and other organic growers and buyers), sometimes resort to buying produce at the grocery store like everyone else, but speaking for myself, I try and buy as fresh and organic as possible.

One other issue I want to touch on is that I hear people using cost as a reason they don’t buy organic produce. I used to think that way myself so I understand where they’re coming from, but with more research and thought, that reason doesn’t really pan out. Granted some stores who sell organic produce feel they have to charge more for various reasons, and I understand that, too. But buying local, freshly harvested produce at your farmer’s market isn’t really that much more costly when you get down to the basics; no middle man to contend with that contributes to higher costs.

Personally, I would much rather keep my prices affordable than have to take it home and freeze, dry or can it. Secondly, farm markets are just down the street making it easily available to everyone.

This year, the Brownsville’s Farmer’s Market and plant starts market is moving to Thursday afternoons and evenings, rather than Saturdays to accommodate those with family plans on Saturdays, and to make it easy for those who work to stop and get your fresh produce on their way home. 

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