Add these items to your must-buy list the next time you shop local.
There are many reasons to shop at your local farmer’s market: it betters the environment, your local economy, your community, and your health.
Another seriously compelling—and seriously delicious—perk: the food, on the whole, is just better. It’s often fresher, tastier and more nutritious than what you’d find on your grocery store shelf. In certain cases, it’s also less expensive. (And if not, the price is usually warranted by the higher quality products you receive in turn).
That said, there are certain foods that are exponentially superior when purchased at a farmer’s market versus a conventional grocery store. Here, a roundup of such eats—all expert-recommended—that you should definitely snag during your next trip.
Although they’re often more expensive than store-bought cartons, the cost of famers’ market eggs is justified for several reasons, says Jenny Markowitz, a Pennsylvania-based registered dietitian. For starters, “eggs produced on smaller farms where eggs are truly free range tend to offer higher levels of vitamin D and healthy omega 3 fatty acids,” she says. “Some studies have found farm fresh free range eggs also have less saturated fat, more beta carotene, and higher levels of vitamins A and E.” Another bonus: “you'll also notice the yolk of farmers market eggs tend to be a lot more vibrant than supermarket eggs,” says Markowitz. This isn’t just a visual plus. “My farmers have told me that they feed good scraps to their chickens which may contribute to the brighter color and nutrient profile,” she explains.
Buying fresh herbs at the farmers market (think: parsley, thyme, mint, rosemary, etc) is a fantastic value, says Los Angeles-based professional chef Nathan Lyon. “The bundles of herbs on offer are often twice as big and half the price when compared to what you will find in a conventional grocery store,” he says. “What’s more, you are also more likely to find a wider variety of herbs available at the farmers market than a grocery store—like bunches of marjoram, savory, tarragon, and so on.”
Tomatoes bound for conventional grocery stores are chosen for their uniformity, picked when they are under-ripe and refrigerated so they can make the trip to the store without bruising and/or spoiling, explains Lyon. The process at local farms is the opposite: farmers pick their tomatoes at peak ripeness and drive them to the local farmers’ market when the flavor and texture is at its best. “Not only that, farmers’ markets have many unique, misshapen, and heirloom varieties of tomatoes that are super flavorful and beautiful!” he adds.
When it comes to nutrition, there are certain fruits and vegetables that are best eaten as close to harvest as possible, explains Lyon. Artichokes are a great example. “They lose their nutrients at a rapid rate after being picked and therefore are best eaten as fresh as possible,” says Lyon. “Since farmers pick and bring their produce to the market usually within a 24-hour period, this makes artichokes a great choice.”
Apples are another example of fruit that is most nutritious right off the tree, says Lyon. “Since apples can be kept in cold storage for up to a year, what you find in a conventional grocery store could be many months old and therefore less nutritious than if you purchase them in peak season (fall/early winter) at a farmers market,” he explains.
You’ll find many more heirloom varieties of radish, such as watermelon radishes, at your local farmer’s market, says Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian and author of Eating in Color. The benefit of this: “They are often spicier and more flavorful than a typical red radish that you get at the grocery store,” she explains.
Some types of grocery store honey are produced overseas and packed with water, synthetic sweeteners, and potentially harmful chemicals in a practice called ‘honey laundering.’ On the other hand, “the honey you buy at your local farmer's market is made with local honey, which is much more beneficial for you, and can even help with seasonal outdoor allergies,” says Danna Murrell, executive chef at Green Chef, a Colorado-based meal delivery kit service. You can also ask local honey farmers about their bees and harvesting practices to ensure you are truly getting a high-quality, filler-free product.
Root vegetables are strongly affected by the soil they grow in, says Makenna Held, a professional chef and cooking instructor in the U.S. and France. “You can ask your local farmer how they treat their ground and what pesticides and/or herbicides they use,” she explains, which is a luxury you won’t get at the regular grocery store. Exhibit A: “A carrot grown in organic, well-treated soil is always superior to that which is commercially farmed.”
If your farmer’s market has mushroom foragers, you’ll get access to unique mushrooms that grow naturally in your region, says Rachel Kreider, a registered dietitian with Bodybuilding.com. “These guys are serious about their mushrooms and will be able to give you a wealth of information about the qualities of the ‘shrooms,” she explains. That also means you’ll get a much greater variety of flavors and nutrition profiles than what you’d find in your grocery store produce bin.
On the whole, farmers’ market vegetables are fresher because they are more recently harvested, says Linton Hopkins, Atlanta-based professional chef and a founder of the Peachtree Road Farmers’ Market. “You can taste this freshness usually in the natural sweetness level of a vegetable,” says Hopkins—and cabbage is a prime example. “Local farmers’ market cabbage, just harvested, doesn’t need added sugar for making coleslaw in order to balance the flavor.” This freshness also means the vegetable is more nutritious, he adds.
Farmers’ markets aren’t all fruits, veggies and eggs. “I love buying ice cream from local artisans at the farmers market,” says Lauren Manaker, a South Carolina-based registered dietitian. The reasons are threefold. First, “they use fresh organic fruit for flavors like strawberry and orange, and the ingredients are very basic with no additives or preservatives,” explains Manaker. What’s more, “the ice cream Is usually made with milk produced from local grass-fed cows so I can validate my ‘treat’ knowing I’m getting some vitamin K2 in my diet.” And lastly: “fresh ice cream made with minimal ingredients tastes better and is better for you.”
Grass-Fed, Local Beef
Your standard store-bought beef, like many other meats, is treated with rounds of antibiotics and typically comes from corn-fed cows, explains Boston-based registered dietitian Kim Ferreira. What’s more, cows consuming corn typically result in more infections, which means even more antibiotics.
“Grass-fed beef in general is a healthier choice because grass is the preferred food source for these animals, which means your meat will naturally contain more omega-3 fatty acids and tend to be leaner,” she explains. “Buying grass-fed beef at your local farmers market is an even better choice for your health, because you have front-row access to the farmer who raise these animals, and most often, these animals are raised humanely until the end.” Per Ferreira, research shows that when animals are slaughtered through more humane techniques, they release less hormones that can negatively impact the quality and taste of the meat.