The Clean Eater's Guide to the Farmers' Market
Clean eating and farmers’ markets go hand in hand—both advocate for a closer relationship with your food and its producers, whether it’s the beekeeper behind the honey or the dairy farmer behind the cheese. Clean eating emphasizes nutrient-dense, wholesome foods that are free of preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides, and other harmful ingredients. You’ll find just that at the farmers’ market, and so much more. With a smorgasbord of seasonal produce and quality foods available, it’s easy to find inspiration in the kitchen. Cooking more, another clean eating practice, is a simple and surefire way to have greater control over what’s on your plate.
Summer, with its abundance of fresh produce, is prime time for farmers’ markets and the perfect opportunity to jumpstart clean eating habits. First off, get to know your farmers and purveyors, as they are your best resource for learning the sourcing or growing practices of a particular vendor. You'd be hard pressed to find a passionate pig farmer, lamb shepherd, or fisherman who isn't excited to discuss their craft. Many farmers' market list vendor information online—New York’s Union Square market even has a downloadable app that updates vendor lists daily.
So, next time you visit the farmers' market, keep your eyes peeled for clean foods such as organically-grown produce, pasture-raised beef, and sustainable seafood. Below, find 10 ways to make the farmers' market into a clean eater's mecca.
1. Stock Local and Seasonal Produce
To guarantee quality, let the seasons dictate the fruits and vegetables you buy. Buying local also reduces the distance that produce travels from farm to market, so the carbon footprint, or environmental impact, is much less. To ensure minimal exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, look for farms that carry the USDA Organic seal. Keep in mind that some small farms are not certified due to its high cost,but they still implement organic practices. Lastly shop for fruits and vegetables on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list—in particular, tomatoes, berries, and peaches rank high for pesticide potential, so buy these organic when possible.
2. Buy Local Eggs
Labeling on store-bought eggs can be downright confusing—save the stress and shop local. If you can’t have a chicken coop in your backyard, eggs from local farmers are the next best thing. To know what to expect, look at how the farm raises its poultry. For example, when pasture-raised hens feed on grass and insects, the nutrients they absorb are passed to their eggs. You’re also more likely to find eggs from other poultry such as duck or quail.
3. Choose Healthy Sweeteners
Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are associated with increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, poor gut health, and more. To sweeten your foods the natural way, flock to your local beekeeper or maple producer. Both honey and maple syrup are nutrient-dense, whole foods that are a welcome addition to any clean eating diet. To maximize the health benefits, make sure you’re buying raw honey and 100% pure maple syrup.
See More: The Best Sweeteners for Clean Eating
4. Fall for Fresh Herbs
Incorporating more fresh herbs into your food is a simple way to add vibrant, earthy flavor without adding extra calories, fat, or sugar. Base what you buy off of what’s in season at the farmers’ market. Parsley and rosemary are generally available year-round, while basil is best in warmer months. Sorrel, a brightly-flavored herb resembling spinach, thrives in early Spring and makes a flavorful addition to salads.
5. Embrace Fermentables
Purveyors of kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut are a common fixture at farmers markets these days. Packed with probiotics that promote a healthy gut, fermented foods may also have brain-boosting qualities. Another easy and healthy way to add flavor, kimchi or kraut provide tang and texture to any dish.
6. Buy Artisanal Bread
The basic ingredients in bread are flour, water, salt, and yeast. However, many varieties of store-bought bread contain refined flour and additives such as dough conditioners, artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. Local bakeries often have stands at farmer’s markets—stick to their goods to ensure that the bread you’re eating is simply bread. Some bakeries may even source flour locally or use organic ingredients. To maximize the health benefits, opt for nutrient-dense, 100% whole grain varieties.
See More: The Clean Eater's Guide to Bread
7. Reel in Local Seafood
Farmers’ markets can be a great resource for fresh, local seafood. Don’t be afraid to ask your fishmonger about the sourcing of the fish, as wild-caught is almost always preferable over farmed. Fish caught using troll or hook and line methods ensure top quality and minimal environmental impact. You can always check the sustainability of any fish by looking it up in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch database.
See More: Sustainable Fish and Seafood Choices
8. Get Wild about Game
Lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than domestically-raised meat, game meat includes bison, venison, rabbit, squab, boar, and even ostrich. These animals are raised on farms and ranches in environments that mimic the wild, such as pastures and forests. At farmers’ markets, you’ll likely find it sold as sausages, burgers, individual chops, tenderloins and more. Because game meat is naturally lean, ask your vendor to recommend the best cuts and cooking methods for your needs.
9. Support your Local Barista
While a clean eating diet stresses the importance of drinking water, the health benefits of coffee shouldn't be ignored. We’re not talking about sugary, specialty drinks, we’re talking about unsweetened, black coffee that’s loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. Look for your local roaster’s stand at the farmers’ market—choose fair trade coffee, which ensures ethical treatment of farmers in bean growing countries such as Costa Rica, Kenya, and the Philippines. Coffee beans can also be certified as USDA organic, meaning they are grown without pesticides or fertilizers.
10. Eat all the Fresh Cheeses
Whether it’s pre-shredded or “low-fat,” processed cheeses are off limits for a clean eating diet. Instead, pay a visit to your local dairy farmer. Look for cheeses made from the milk of locally-raised cows, goats, and sheep. Look for farms that carry the USDA Organic seal or that are Animal Welfare Approved, a certification that ensures humane and sustainable practices.