Earth Day Pledge Update #2 – My Farmers’ Market Experience

For Earth Day 2010, I made a pledge to eat better.

I then defined “better” with four specific goals.

This is an update on goal #1, which was to spend more money on groceries at the farmers’ markets than in the grocery and other stores. That’s without having to go to extremes of not eating what I want or paying unreasonable prices for similar products in the grocery stores.

In the four months since Earth Day on April 22, I have spent 56% of my grocery purchases at the farmers’ market, and I will be upping the target to 60%.

Here are some notes on my farmers’ market experience so far, shopping at the historic Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market and new Seaport Farmers’ Market.

Fair or better pricing than the grocery stores

For all the organic, premium and/or niche products sold at the farmers’ market compared to the imported commodity stuff at the grocery stores that are not as healthy, good or fresh, the farmers’ market prices are competitive and sometimes even cheaper! Some things are more expensive than in the grocery stores, like soy milk. At the rate I drink it, though, that works out to about 75 cents a week, and I can return the bottles each week for them to get reused. That’s easily a trade-off I’d be willing to make not to have to drink soy milk made with Monsanto genetically modified and copyright mutant beans that make up about 90% of the soy beans in North America!

Healthier and tastier food

The farmers’ market food is generally better and fresher than the supermarket stuff. Even the supermarket’s organic stuff is not as fresh from having to go to and through their distribution centres before hitting the stores. The result is better tasting food from the farmers’ market that’s better for my health. That, in turn, makes me want to eat more, which I need to for my marathon training, so it’s great. For most people, though, eating more is not something they’d want to do. However, I’d bet the ones who mostly shop at grocery stores would eat less if they converted to more farmers’ market food. That’s because most of those people eat a lot of processed and junk food from the grocery stores that’s not good for them, but appeals to their fat loving taste buds.

New foods tried

I’ve picked up some new foods for my diet from the farmers’ market, like snap peas which you can eat the pods. They are unlike regular peas with pods way too fibrous for most people to eat. My conscience had enough of pea pod wastage after just two batches, so I just asked one day if there were a pea which you can eat the pod. The farmer from whom I bought the peas gave me a batch of snap peas to try and I was instantly addicted! The snap peas are not as nutritious as the regular peas if you measure by the pea, but they are easily more nutritious and better value for the money when you add in the pods. They also have a lot of nutrients that’s hard to get elsewhere, like zinc! See the snap peas’ nutrient profile. I have a bowlful of raw snap peas each day for a snack now. Among other new foods I’ve tried are kohlrabi (good but pricey), pesto sauce (excellent) and wild boar meat (very “boaring” to the taste buds).

New foods sourced

I didn’t find everything I was going to get at the farmers’ market within the first week. Rather, I looked for more each week so bit by bit, I reduced my grocery store list. Today, my grocery stores list include mostly just non-perishable base food and a few convenience processed items. Examples include pasta, rice, olive oil, granola bars, Coke, soya sauce, salad dressing, etc. I plan to reduce this list further in the next little while as some things run out and I will look to the farmers’ market to replenish them.

Way too honest farmers

I’ve asked a lot of questions of the farmers regarding whether they planted all of the crops they sold, or how they raised their cattle, and I was shocked at how honest the farmers were. They openly admitted they got some food from abroad, and always told me where. Some told me certain batches of produce had to be sprayed for whatever reasons, with their philosophy not to do so unless they had to, and weren’t offended I didn’t buy the sprayed batches. I have been able to further confirm much of what the farmers’ told me from certain “inside sources” I have so I know the honesty is there. Some of the farmers even told me I was between half pounds of what I bought so I could either take some off or add some more to get an even unit for a fair price! That’s despite half their scales being insensitive to under weigh just about everything under a couple of pounds! This honesty is certainly refreshing compared to corporate marketing by the supermarket chains. Take what the Atlantic Superstore in South End Halifax did on August 13th, for instance. They got busted for claiming some groceries from far away as being local, on the big opening day of their “buy local” campaign where they made it a point to highlight locally produced products. They said it was some “misplaced” signs. You be the judge!

Other benefits

Of course, in buying local food, I am not only supporting the local industry, but the local economy of which the local industry is a part. The food miles on my food is drastically less than it was before when all kinds of things I bought were imported from far away. Grocery shopping has also never been so fun as the trips to the farmers’ market. I’m seeing lots of people I know at the new Seaport Farmers’ Market and some I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s quite the gathering place, with great entertainment from the buskers around. As for the historic Brewery Market where the old farmers’ market was in Halifax, it’s not very crowded these days. That suits its shoppers who like more space just fine, but it will be very crowded again soon as new vendors continue to come in. What used to be a small challenge to switch routine and incorporate a trip to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings after my marathon training speed work, has now turned to something I look forward to each week. As the Seaport Market opens on more days starting in September, it will be an even more convenient and enjoyable experience for me and others.

Decreased spending on food from lunches made

With all the good fresh food I get from the farmers’ market, and this goal to buy more of it than the processed stuff from the grocery stores, I’ve been making most of my lunches. Before this, I had been buying most of my lunches. What has resulted is that my overall spending on food has dropped so I’m saving money overall.

Possibly slightly increased spending on groceries

Despite the lower prices at the farmers’ market, I’ve been incorporating new foods into my diet which may have actually increased my overall spending on groceries. I say “may have” because I’ve been stocking up on non-perishable grocery store items like pasta, rice, olive oil, etc. They were on sale when I was in the store and had space to carry them home, so why not? I have enough of those items to last me till at least 2011, if not Earth Day 2011 when my “year” for tracking this publicly will be over. It remains to be seen whether my increased grocery bills over the past 4 months will level out in the next 8 months without having to buy most of the “base” food I eat. I am confident it will. But even if it doesn’t, I’m not going to complain about spending more and getting more quality food. It’s not like I’m getting ripped off or being lulled into some bad habit like how a lot of people end up buying junk food they never intended on their grocery trips.

Balancing the two grocery sources act

Before, I only ever need to go to the grocery store for my groceries. Now, I go to the farmers’ market and the grocery store. While this may sound like a big inconvenience, it’s not as the two are close together for me so I can go to both on one trip. For most people, they go get groceries more than once a week anyway. Just plan the regular trip to the farmers’ market and the impromptu ones to the grocery stores, if the farmers’ market is not open at that time or doesn’t carry what you need. For me, I go to the farmers’ market for most of my food, and the grocery store for the non-perishables. I have it planned out well enough that I will be able to take just one trip to the grocery store per month next summer. Unfortunately, fall and winter come first so I will be going to the grocery store for some produce each week soon, along with other purchases from the farmers’ market.

Upping my farmers’ market grocery spending target to 60% of all grocery spending

I know it’s possible to eat healthy local all year round in Nova Scotia. I’m just not that zealously idealistic about it, frankly, to make the necessary adjustments to eat only the available foods in the quantities needed for my demanding diet. In winter, I’ll buy more groceries from the grocery stores than now with the produce the farmers’ market might not be able to provide me, or provide at competitive prices. That will knock back my level of farmers’ market grocery spending of all grocery spending. However, I’m confident I can build enough of a base before winter, and then recoup some as spring rolls around, to be at 60% by Earth Day on April 22, 2011. I want to make sure this will be a challenge for me, not a walk over.

Impact?

I know the change to more food from the farmers’ market than grocery stores is better for my health. I know I’m getting better value for my money with the competitive prices to the grocery stores for the better products. I’m going to save money I spend on food overall from a big reduction on “eat out” costs, even if groceries may have increased slightly, though that remains to be seen. Food and grocery trips also have never been so fun for me. I’m helping the local farming industry, the environment a bit and the local economy. I can even quantify this at about $1200 per year I spend on groceries transferred from the supermarkets to the farmers’ market. When it comes to food, you vote with each dollar you spend, and I’m making some major voting changes! Really, I don’t know what more you’d want for motivation to achieve a goal like this.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 9.3

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