May 30, 2017
By: Mary White, MS, RD, LD
It’s that time of year again! Farmers’ markets are in full swing, making it easy to purchase local produce, eat seasonally, and support local producers. Although individual market seasons may vary depending on your location, farmers’ markets are generally open from mid-spring to the end of summer.
Benefits of Farmers’ Markets
Why bother to buy local?
- Eating locally gives us the chance to eat seasonally. This means our produce is picked at its peak harvest time. Oftentimes, foods are more flavorful compared to conventional store bought produce, which can be kept in cold-storage for up to 9-12 months.
- Eating locally supports small businesses and increases social interaction between patrons/producers. Purchasing local food keeps profits within your community and increases likelihood of re-investment among the local population.
- Eating locally allows us to control the amounts of pesticides/chemical additives we consume. Talk to your local producers about what kinds and the amounts of pesticides they use.
Nutrition Education & Farmers’ Markets
Farmers markets have the potential to serve as opportunities for nutrition education and increase access to fruit/vegetables, particularly in limited resource communities. However, few research studies have investigated the effects of implementing a farmers’ market education program on nutrition-related parameters.
Examining the Evidence
McCann and colleagues conducted the Willingness to Try (WTT) program at farmers’ markets to increase elementary school age children’s willingness to taste fruit/vegetables. Children’s readiness to try fruit/vegetables was recorded prior to tasting, after tasting, and 2 days after tasting. Researchers observed a decrease in willingness to try the 8 fruits/vegetables offered among the children directly after tasting. However, two days after tasting, children’s readiness to taste the offered fruits/vegetables increased.
Norman et al. investigated the effects of the Power of Produce (PoP) Club on children’s attitudes and fruit/vegetable intake. The Power of Produce Club was designed as a farmers’ market incentive program to engage both children and their parents. After participating in the program, 75% of parents stated their children help them choose which produce to purchase at farmers’ markets. About half (51%) of participants said their children were willing to try more fruits/vegetables at home. 41% of parents responded that their children were eating more fruits/vegetable at home.
Ernzen et al. discussed the opportunities for registered dietitians to develop “sound nutrition messages focused on sustainable living” at farmers’ markets. By collaborating with other health-care organizations, registered dietitians, and community partners, registered dietitians can educate farmers’ market patrons via tools such as: food samples, recipe cards, interactive display boards, and cookbooks.
Currently underway, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Fresh Start Randomized Control Trial is examining whether web-based nutrition education held at farmers’ markets could encourage fruit/vegetable purchases and intake among WIC participants. Baseline data was published in 2016 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As registered dietitians/healthcare professionals, we have a unique opportunity to introduce evidence-based nutrition education at farmers’ markets. Contact your local community farmers’ market director and volunteer to host an “Ask a Registered Dietitian” table, cooking demonstration, or children’s fruit/vegetable tasting. To locate a farmers’ market near you, visit Farmers' Market Directory.