It is summer and the farmers markets are in full swing around the United States. Crispy carrots, beets in jewel tones and multicolored radishes are just some of the local produce you’ll see at my local Saturday market right now. Here’s why you should be shopping at your area market this weekend.

Fresh, Local Food

Organic heirloom tomatoes at the Saturday farmers market in Ventura, California.

It’s hard to beat the taste and nutritional value of fresh produce that was literally picked hours before you bought it – especially when you consider that fresh food often travels about 1,500 miles before it reaches the grocery store for many Americans.

Depending on the market, you’ll find a broad selection of vegetable and fruit varieties, as well as grass-fed beef, eggs, dairy, flowers and crafts. Many markets offer live music and community activities.

Not More Expensive

But isn’t it more expensive to shop at farmers’ markets than your local grocery store? Not necessarily, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

“…a price study conducted by students at Seattle University showed that most vegetables sold at the farmers market had lower if not comparable prices to their grocery store. Further, in 74 percent of the communities examined in Anthony Flaccavento’s price comparison study of Appalachia and the Southeast, produce was less expensive at farmers markets compared to supermarkets, on average by 22 percent.”

For the best value, shop for seasonal items and freeze extras.

Farmers Earn More

Cauliflower in all colors at Ventura farmers market.

There’s also a nice feeling knowing that farmers earn more money from these markets too, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

“In 2017, American farmers receive only 17.4 cents of every dollar American’s spent on food. At farmers markets, farmers head home with upwards of 90 cents on the dollar.”

And these markets help the entire community too. “The majority of the money spent at markets, and the jobs that come with it, stay in the communities where the markets are located,” the group added.

Financial Benefits to Community

To understand the financial benefits of these local and regional food systems, consider this recent article by Ecocentric. The article cites a number of favorable studies in Michigan, Vermont and Pennsylvania with quantified economic benefits for local food, but says the impressive benefits are probably underestimated.

“With rural populations continuing to decline and large farms accounting for an increasing amount of food production in the US, the growth in direct farm sales is a bright spot for small, local farms.”

No Farms, No Food

One of the most important reasons to shop at farmers markets is that it keeps these food producers in business.

Every hour, 40 acres of US farm and ranch land is lost in the United States, according to American Farmland Trust, which offers helpful guides and valuable information on farmland preservation.

The organization invites you to nominate your favorite farmers market at its site.

Finding a Market

The best way you can support these farmers is to buy their products! Below are helpful sources for finding farmers markets and farm-fresh products in your area:

USDA National Farmers Market Directory

Eat Wild has listings of grass-fed beef, eggs and dairy farmers around the nation.

Local Harvest connects you with local farmers markets, farm stands, pick-your-own’s, CSAs and more.

Related Reading

Don’t miss this Q&A with UC Merced professor Elliott Campbell. There was a great deal of buzz when his farmland mapping project indicated that “most areas of the country could feed between 80 percent and 100 percent of their populations with food grown or raised within 50 miles.”

Learn about agritourism in California with UC ANR.

See how a remote Idaho community is teaching about local food systems with one of America’s favorite foods.

Hear why an award-winning Wisconsin group — Wormfarm Institute — is reconnecting “agri” and “culture.” Learn why they are bringing together farmers, artists and residents in innovative ways.

Read a guest post about the importance of preserving farmland in California.