With Memorial Day come and gone, we’re rounding the corner to summer. Even in the northern-most regions of the country, farmers markets are back (if they ever closed where you live). Ten years ago when I started MDA, they were still a rarity in most parts of the country, but times have changed.
Farmers markets aren’t just about local, seasonal produce. Sure, that’s a great reason to show up every week, but I’d argue also for some of the less noted (in some cases even less tangible) benefits of hitting these markets.
Socialize with Others Who Care about Health
I hear from a lot of folks who are looking for community when they make a health change. Their spouse or inner circle doesn’t necessarily put a premium on healthy eating, and they feel like they’re going it alone.
That said, farmers markets won’t be a exclusive gathering of Primal Blueprinters, but it will likely be a pleasant collection of folks who have health-related visions and values. They want to support local farmers and economies. They care about agricultural methods and sourcing. They enjoy knowing their food providers and feeling a connection with the farms it came from. You’ll find many who prefer organic fare. There are those who are more adventurous eaters, willing to experiment with new veggies, meat cuts, and international flavors. Maybe some just enjoy the more social vibe of a farmers market.
When was the last time you had a friendly conversation with a perfect stranger in the aisle of a grocery store? At farmers markets, impromptu conversations happen all the time between shoppers, and between shoppers and farmers. The mood is convivial and leisurely. There might be a band playing, or tables set up for communal eating. People often go to farmers markets to hang out, not just to get groceries. It’s an outing, even an event in the weekend—not just a chore. Something tells me the sun is more welcoming than the florescent lighting, too….
All of this is good for mental health. Socializing increases secretion of oxytocin, and oxytocin is an antidote to feeling depressed and isolated. Think of it this way: the healthy food you buy at a farmers market feeds your body, and simply being at a farmers market feeds your soul. The slow food movement gets it, and I like that. Appreciation of food is a full cycle experience if you’re open to that.
Learn New Cooking Tips and Recipes
When you’re having one of those impromptu conversations with a farmer, ask what their favorite recipe is for purple cauliflower, or kale, or whatever’s in season at their stand. The farmers often know simple recipes that bring out the best flavor in their produce. (You may even find handouts at their tables.) Many of the farmers also talk to chefs who shop at the market, and can share their cooking tips.
If you see a fruit or vegetable you’ve never cooked before, don’t be shy. Ask what it is, and what to do with it. Chances are, if things aren’t too bustling, you’ll get more info and suggestions than you expect.
Make Good on Your Goal toward Experimentation
Sure, the bigger the market, the easier and more relevant this is. Hit a larger city’s farmers market, and you just may be able to stay all day without seeing everything. It still amazes me to think about the immensity of these pop-up food villages.
Make a point of taking in all the options you’ve never considered in your eating. Check out the unfamiliar produce items, yes, but look for those stands that offer more in the way of international flavor. You may find greens, teas, spices, and other ingredients that open up new possibilities.
And then there are the kids… Most kids I know hate the grocery store. Farmers markets are a different story. Not a bad family outing for a weekend. Let your kids bring their own bag and choose a new fruit or vegetable to try each week. Put them in charge of cooking their purchase, too.
Get More (of Everything) for Your Investment
Sometimes farmers markets have lower prices than supermarkets; other times certain prices are higher. If you end up paying more, you can feel good about the fact that you’re also getting more. Perhaps not in quantity, but definitely in nutrient density, variety, and flavor.
Freshly harvested, local produce that’s grown using organic methods and picked and sold at peak ripeness can have increased micronutrient density and taste a lot better. There are studies that tell us this, and intuitively it just makes sense. Which do you think is going to taste better—a hard, pale tomato shipped across the country in a refrigerated truck, or a ripe, juicy tomato that’s picked at a local farm a few hours before it’s sold?
Grab the Uglies and Heirlooms
Most grocery stores now offer organic produce. Some even sell local produce. Still, that produce is decidedly more perfect and uniform than the misshapen fruits and vegetables you see at farmers markets. Grocery stores often have cosmetic standards; looks matter more than flavor. At farmers markets, vendors sell “ugly” tomatoes and tiny, wild-looking strawberries with pride, as they should. Those uglies taste pretty awesome. Many are heirloom varieties, which naturally grow in a less predictable fashion.
It’s easier to find heirloom fruits and vegetables at farmers markets than it is at grocery stores. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are grown from the seeds of plant varieties that have been around for at least 50 years (before plant breeders introduced hybrid seeds). Heirlooms are also open-pollinated, meaning that insects or wind do the work, without human intervention. That’s all background information though. What you really need to remember is that more often than not, heirlooms taste really, really good.
Stock Your Protein and Pantry Needs
In addition to reusable bags, bring a cooler to your local farmers market. It can be a great place to stock up on meat, seafood, eggs, and even pastured (or in some places raw) dairy.
Most of us can’t raise our own animals to butcher, so buying directly from a local farmer is the next best thing. You know exactly where the meat came from, and how the animal was raised. Some farmers markets also sell locally caught seafood, and most sell fresh eggs from happy chickens.
Pantry items such as olive oil, fermented foods, nuts, and local honey (those with allergies, take note) can also be found, making it possible to put together entire meals made solely from your market foraging.
Thanks for reading today. Do you hit the farmers market in your area? Make a day trip of it ever? What have you found there that’s changed or enhanced your Primal eating? Share your thoughts, and enjoy the week, everyone.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.