Juicy strawberries, crunchy snow peas, and a range of greens are now appearing at farmers markets throughout the region, kicking off a growing season that will bring a glorious selection of delicious and healthy food to your table.
Grown right here in our community, the produce doesn't get much better than what is available at the farmers market. Just-picked fresh, the fruits and vegetables are teeming with nutrition, including essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that boost the immune system and help protect the body from disease. Summer is a great time to dramatically kick up the nutritional value of what we eat and serve our families, and farmers markets are an ideal source for this fresh, healthy food.
Yet, too many families don't know that farmers markets are also very affordable, with produce that often costs less than similar items found in the grocery store. In fact, many markets in our area are deliberately located near low-income neighborhoods, making them healthy, accessible, and economical for all.
Most farmers markets accept SNAP (formerly food stamps). Use your EBT card the same way you would at the grocery store. Several farmers markets even double the value of SNAP with a dollar for dollar match, giving families a great reason to buy an abundance of healthy produce for the week.
The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Supplemental Nutrition program provides vouchers for Farmers Markets. This incentive was established by Congress way back in 1992 to provide fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants, and to expand awareness of the health value of shopping at farmers' markets. Qualifying seniors can also receive vouchers from their local Council on Aging.
This is great news on a variety of levels. All people, regardless of income, can take advantage of the incomparable benefits of the summer bounty, and local farmers are encouraged to keep growing delicious, healthy food for sale at the markets. For farmers, the weekly markets are the culmination of months of hard work. They are proud of their crops and proud to provide healthy food for their communities. In turn, our support enables them to continue.
At the markets, local farmers are delighted to chat with their customers about how their produce is grown. They are even happy to explain how to prepare vegetables that may be unfamiliar to some of the shoppers.
Beyond the health benefits, farmers markets nourish us in other ways. It is wonderful to witness the fun socialization that takes place at the markets, where people and families connect and often linger to sample the prepared food items or listen to live music. Many farmers markets also offer fun activities like chef demos and kids' activities.
For several hours a week, the heart of many communities is found at the farmers market, drawn there by the promise of fresh, healthy, locally grown food and community. To find information on the farmers markets near you visit the map-o-licious tool at www.berkshiregrown.org.
Morgan Ovitsky is a certified holistic nutrition educator and natural foods chef. She is currently the Project Coordinator of Be Well Berkshires.