One of the best things about late summer is the bounty of the harvest. During a recent visit to an Omaha Farmers’ Market, my family and I mingled with an enormous crowd browsing booths bursting with brightly colored produce, vibrant flower arrangements, local meats, and artisan cheeses. It was a pleasure to be in the midst of the city, but enveloped by the smells of fresh-picked dill, moist soil, and pungent green onions.
This particular market has grown over its two decades from a few overpriced veggie vendors to a Saturday morning destination featuring street musicians, bakery goods, and crafts along with the season’s freshest, locally grown (and reasonably priced) produce.
This week is National Farmers’ Market Week – a time to celebrate the growers that provide the endless variety of food options we have in the United States. The growing farm-to-table and eat-local movements, as well as the passionate desire of people to learn about where their food comes from, have spurred tremendous growth in farmers’ markets across the country. This year, 8,144 markets are listed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Farmers’ Market Directory - an increase from about 5,000 in 2008.
The markets also are to be commended for reaching out to those most in need of fresh foods in their diets. Vendors are providing locally grown vegetables and fruits to low-income senior citizens, women, and children by accepting payment through government assistance programs. And often leftover goods are donated to food banks. How cool is that?
Meanwhile, I dragged my family down each row scoping out what was available and comparing prices. As I purchased cucumbers (two for 50 cents), the friendly young vendor told me to grab an extra one, illustrating the connections built between customers and growers throughout the season. Regular customers purchase from preferred vendors week after week and inadvertently learn about the farms and the families that nurture them.
In fact, I bought sweet corn from the Wenninghoff’s Farm booth and learned the family sells vegetables daily at its farm store near the edge of Omaha. I often drive past the farm, which uses several Valley® center pivots in its fields, and next time I’ll be stopping to check out the store.
I invite you to celebrate National Farmers’ Market week by visiting your local market. Whether you try a new vegetable, pick up your tried-and-true favorites, or treat yourself a bouquet of sunflowers, you’ll be supporting and honoring the growers that make it all possible.