It’s good to show both sides of an issue, but Susan Axelrod’s long article on the front page of last week’s Source misses the mark.
She states the obvious (clearly, readers know that supermarkets are indoor venues with carts, conveniences and cheaper food), and her article is followed a few pages later by a large pull quote in The Conversation – “and face it, the food may be fresher, but it is more expensive” – with an opinion piece highlighting what a high-priced bother local markets are.
Supermarket food is, as Axelrod writes, “simply bigger.” But do we really need bigger food? Quality, variety, health and supporting local farms are the ideas behind farmers markets. There is already plenty of support for big chain stores.
Shopping at a farmers market is a choice to encourage farms like Goranson Farm in Dresden, rather than buying organic carrots shipped from a huge farm in California. The bottom line isn’t always about cheap food, but about what we value.
When shopping for economical worth, I look for quality, not simply how much food I can consume. The supermarket offers lower prices and strawberries in January, but I’m not usually looking for the cheapest source of giant portions. I want to consider the big picture, the unseen costs of shipping food cross-country and of what will happen to small Maine farms without a venue for their delicate, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
I grow tomatoes, potatoes and peas in my garden with limited time to spend on weeding, battling bugs and harvesting. Some things I’m unable or unwilling to take on, like raising chickens, tending cows or picking vegetables that require a daily harvest. Not everyone has the time or space to plant and care for a vegetable garden, but by purchasing from farmers we can support local efforts to keep food production close to home when possible.
The farmers market helps us take a welcome step away from mass-produced groceries to a place where we can share the food we can raise here at home and meet the people who work so hard to grow that food.
Meg Ragland summed it up perfectly in her excellently written piece on the history and current state of Maine’s farmers markets (Pie for Breakfast: “History shows markets boom, bust, boom again,” May 11, Page S9 or at bit.ly/QJcP0D). Her contrast of the “big, shiny fruits and vegetables that were bred to withstand long-distance transport at the cost of flavor and texture,” with “the hyper-flavorful produce, meats, cheese, baked goods … in a bustling, sociable atmosphere,” shows the true reason why I, and other champions of fresh food and local farms, shop at the farmers market.
It wouldn’t be June in Maine without the exquisite taste of a just-picked strawberry, or August without the sweetness of the freshest corn from the field down the road.
Catherine Schillinger is a freelance writer from Sanbornville, New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and their retired racing greyhound. In the summer she stays in Ogunquit, and cooks at Gypsy Sweethearts Restaurant. In winter she writes, volunteers at the local library and travels. She is a home gardener and a backyard beekeeper.