By Crystal Hoepner
Nothing says summer in west central Minnesota more than fresh, local produce like sweet corn and cherry tomatoes. On many days/evenings each week you can find locals selling fruits, vegetables, meats and homemade breads at a farmer’s market.
Just within the five west central counties of Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Grant, there are 12 markets to choose from that operate from mid-May through October.
Whether you are a frequent visitor to the farmer’s market or just enjoy the fresh taste of local foods, “farm to fork” is the concept of purchasing locally grown food directly from the source, in this case, the farmer.
The term comes from the idea that the less time and fewer hands it takes for the food to get from the farm to your table, the fresher, healthier, more environmentally sensitive and community minded it is.
Are locally grown foods healthier? The average distance our food travels is 1,500 miles. At many of the local farmer’s markets, your food travels within the boundaries of western Minnesota, most from 100 miles or less. It reaches you within a day of being picked, compared with week-long journeys across the country.
The nutritional value of produce declines as more time passes between farm and fork. Once harvested, produce quickly loses nutrients. Since local produce is sold right after it’s picked, it retains more nutrients. Buying directly from your farmer also allows you to know where your food comes from and how it was raised.
More markets will now be accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) to increase access to affordable fresh foods. In addition, some markets provide music and entertainment, a community meal, and an opportunity to socialize with friends and neighbors.
Visit a farmer’s market near you for fresher foods and healthier eating.
Crystal Hoepner is a health educator with Douglas County Public Health.