Q & A: Why Farmers Markets?

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We talk a lot about farmer’s markets here at A Couple Cooks. Why? Well, we’ve fallen in love shopping at them. After a growing up shopping at giant, anonymous supermarkets, it blew my mind that I could buy food from the person who actually grew it. And they could know my name, ask about my day — and sell me kale they’d planted.

In many ways, we might not have stumbled across farmers markets if it weren’t for a dear friend of mine, Milena Klimek. We grew up together in Minnesota, where we shared passions for just about everything. When she started becoming interested food and sustainability, I took notice but watched from afar. Gradually, her involvement helped me (and later Alex) start to understand the connection between the environment, food, and community. She’s now pursuing her doctorate in Vienna, Austria studying sustainable agriculture, and I couldn’t be more proud of how she’s pursuing her lifelong passions and making her mark on the world.

She’s a storehouse of knowledge and we thought it would be a perfect addition to our Healthy & Whole series to pick her brain a bit. Here, she tells us a little about her story, and answers today’s question: Why shop at farmer’s markets?

{Thank you so much, Milena, for sharing with us!}

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1. How did you get interested in food / sustainable agriculture? {start at the beginning!}

My mother. She is only one quarter Italian and thinks she is 100%, lending to a lifestyle of loving good food and the process of making it! My mother also believes in the quality and healthfulness of food. I have memories of when I was very young, enjoying the atmosphere of our local health food coop when it was just a tiny store in an unassuming strip-mall.

Later on, adding to our family passion of food, taste and health, I realized this view should also include the health of the animals involved, the environment and the farmers/producers. Over time, I’ve come to view enjoying food as part of a system, and I have delved into the possibilities of a system that is different from the conventional agricultural one we have today.

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2. So now, you’re in Vienna, Austria. Tell us about what you’re doing there, and how it fits into your story. 

I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. I work in a group highlighting systems of alternative and sustainable agriculture, and am focusing on a comparison of farmers markets in Minneapolis and Vienna and the values embraced by both.

I’m adding to my story by learning more about my passion—food—through an avenue close to my heart. My father is from Vienna and I returned to learn more about my heritage. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, baking and learning about traditional Austrian and European cuisine, and have fun sprucing up Austrian fare into healthy variants. Additionally, I love learning more about the agricultural and culinary traditions of farmers in Austria, something not well known in other parts of the world.

 

3. You introduced a new term to us, “civic agriculture”. What is it, and why is it important? 

I came to civic agriculture through my farmers market studies. Civic agriculture is place-based, local agriculture that integrates community in food and farming issues and initiatives. In contrast to industrial and conventional food systems, it brings innovation and entrepreneurship using ethical interactions available to everyone. Examples would be participating in your local farmers market or CSA.

I believe that this term can help the average Joe remember that the process of eating is an agricultural act (as author Wendell Berry puts it). Taking that a step further, viewing eating in a systems perspective reminds us that we vote with our dollar. We as consumers have the potential to build on our enjoyment of food by supporting an agricultural system that matches our values. So get involved!

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4. What is the benefit of shopping at a farmers market? How does it affect my personal health, my community, and the world? 

First of all, go visit a local farmers market and do a little investigating. Ask around, find out if the vendors are actual farmers, and how many of their products they make or produce themselves. There are many interpretations of what a farmers market really is. If you are looking for the trust and quality that farmers markets can provide, make sure your values are reflected in the market you are attending. Many markets have a sustainable and local theme; these are the markets that allow you to participate in an effective civic agriculture.

As for benefits? There are many studies linking farmers markets to freshness and quality of products, the support of small farmers and local foods, the excess revenue brought to surrounding community and businesses nearby, the decrease of prices, food accessibility for lower-income buyers, the improved community atmosphere, and the ability to create informed and trusting relationships with farmers.

 

5. How did current day farmers markets come about? 

Farmers markets in the US traditionally have European roots; however, in many parts of the US, farmers markets were originally used as wholesale providers. Many smaller grocers would head to the market every morning to collect fresh produce to provide for their customers. With the expansion of global trade, refrigeration and supermarkets, many farmers markets significantly decreased in size or closed. However, due to the heightened interest in food health and quality, we are now living in a time of farmers market revival. In the past 20 years in the US alone, farmers markets have grown from 1,755 markets to over 8,144.

 

6. What are some of the differences between farmers markets in America versus in Europe? And how about the differences in view on food and eating in general in America versus Europe, since you’ve lived both places? 

As opposed to the very atmospheric and community-oriented farmers markets in the US (with music, activities for kids, theme-based, etc.), markets in Austria specifically, are very practical and are run by the city, eliminating many of the mission-oriented elements of the markets in the US. As a result, and also due to a very long tradition of organic in supermarkets, many true farmers markets in Austria are struggling.

Trends toward an Americanized view of food (heavily processed, easy and accessible) are the norm in Austria as well. However, for its size, Austria has the highest percentage of land in organic production, as well as organic consumption, in Europe. Additionally, high-fructose corn syrup is banned from Austrian food and GMOs are banned in food production.

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7. Anything else to share with us? 

Small farmers have the ability to focus on quality and values. They also need our help to rebuild our food system with more local opportunities. Most of them also enjoy their jobs because they are able to interact with their customers and share pride in the work that they are doing. Support them!

A great way of doing this is attending a farmers market regularly. This helps you learn about growing food, farming issues, new foods, seasonality, freshness and quality, making it a fun family activity, date or meeting place!

Healthy & Whole Series
Intro
Slowing Down
Be Bold
Get Inspired
What We Eat
On Food and Guilt
On Food and Judgement
Eat Mindfully
From Inspiration to Recipe
On Food and Money

And more!

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

2 Comments

  • Reply
    Tiffany
    September 26, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Loved this. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Ash-foodfashionparty
    September 29, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Being big supporters of farmers market, really love this.

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