Your neighborhood farmers market may be better for you than you realize.
That’s the conclusion that many in the healthcare field are beginning to come to. Over the past decade, which saw the formation of the Kingfield, Fulton and Nokomis farmers markets, there has been a sharp increase in the number of neighborhood and workplace markets opening across the country. That increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables via a weekly community event is yielding positive results in market goers’ lives in more ways than you might think.
There is a difference between shopping for produce at a farmers market and shopping at a local grocery store. When people shop at farmers markets they are exposed to new fruits and vegetables and are significantly more likely to try foods they normally wouldn’t. Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of people who switch from buying produce at a grocery store to buying produce at a farmers market end up increasing their weekly consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
We know that there is a correlation between the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten per week and improved markers of health in areas like cholesterol levels, chronic disease management and heart disease risk factors. That is the health benefit that many of you likely thought about when you started reading this article, but the benefits of attending and buying from your neighborhood farmers market extend well beyond exposure to new foods.
The produce at the farmers market is local and so is fresher than produce that is shipped in from more distant sites. In terms of vitamin and nutrient content, freshness matters.
When produce is picked, its enzymes and internal metabolism continue, and over just a few days it can lose a large percentage of the nutrients. A day or two of transport can cost 10 percent or more of what makes produce such a healthy option.
I would argue, though, that shopping at your neighborhood farmers market carries benefits more important than the way it could change your eating habits.
The farmers market is a community event. Unlike a grocery store that is open daily, the market is finite and exists over a season. This turns a produce shopping trip into an opportunity to connect with your neighbors and community on a weekly basis.
It’s a chance to meet with the neighborhood association and become involved. It’s a day to bring your children down for programming and educational opportunities they may not get elsewhere. It’s an event when you can catch up with old neighbors and meet new ones, all while making healthy eating choices and stepping out of your comfort zone with new foods.
This opportunity for community connection carries real benefits in terms of wellness. Connecting with the surrounding community and building those relationships has been shown to help fight depression, it can improve mood and increase a person’s overall sense of wellness.
Are you a believer yet? Come on down to the next market — South Minneapolis residents have their pick three days a week right now — and check it out for yourself.
Jon Shelver has been a Hale resident since 2010 and has been volunteering with Neighborhood Roots and the Nokomis Farmers Market since 2014. He is a pulmonary and critical care physician with Park Nicollet Health Services.