Farmers markets let you know food, and neighbors, better

There are many signs that spring is finally here, and one of those is the appearance of the farmers market.

It may seem like some quaint old-fashioned custom to some, but in Bloomington it is the place to see and be seen. I hope the farmers market can be viewed as a cool destination in other communities as well.

Short of growing everything yourself, shopping at farmers markets is the only way to beat the grip that factory farms have on the way our food is generated. You can meet those who grow your food and know that it has not passed through many hands before it reaches your kitchen.

This reduces the risk that it has been produced with the use of exploited migrant workers in a faraway place.

A farmers market is the best way to ensure that you are getting produce that is not processed or treated to withstand transportation from distant lands. It gives you more peace of mind knowing what is actually in your food, and you can ask those difficult questions about fertilizers, pesticides, organic practices and genetic modification.

Shopping locally means supporting individual local growers and ensuring that profits stay within your own community. In this way you are not bolstering a large corporation that may not have the best interests of your local area in mind. Yes, farmers markets may cost a bit more than what you would find at a supermarket, but it is worth it to pay more for quality when it comes to what you are putting into your body.

Shopping at farmers markets should be possible for all citizens, and not just a wealthy elite who can pay top dollar for produce. One way to make the market more accessible to a wider demographic is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known colloquially as food stamps.

Many farmers markets do allow the use of SNAP benefits, but the Bloomington market takes it one step further — consumers are able to double the use of SNAP funds. Shoppers can exchange up to $18 in benefits per week for vouchers, which gives them the ability to purchase $36 worth of food. It is easy to see how enticing it would be to patronize the farmers market when on a tight budget.

A program of this sort is advantageous for the growers by giving more people the opportunity to buy directly from them. It is helpful for the frugal consumer who might otherwise sacrifice quality for quantity of food. And this is of overall benefit to the entire area by encouraging healthier eating habits for all citizens.

And it’s just plain fun to hang out at farmers markets. I don’t get into long conversations at the grocery store, but I sure do that at the market. This creates an additional positive side effect in the form of a gathering place for members of the community to come together to socialize.

Think of it as a weekly opportunity to celebrate what you love about where you live. Farmers markets — a throwback to the past? Or just maybe the wave of the future.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephanie