National Farmers Market Week 2021
Like many of you, I was first introduced to Jake's Country Meats at a farmers market. At the time I was working with a vegetable farm just west of Chicago and my tent happened to be right next to those famous blue coolers. Through that connection, I ended up working next to Farmer Nate at the Downers Grove market for 4 years before joining the Jake's team full-time and moving to Michigan in 2016. Since then our family has grown, we've moved to South Bend, and I've continued working alongside the farm family to build the local food system through farmers markets, meat drops, and our wholesale partners. Below you can see my family enjoying our summer vacation to da UP. If you visit the Green City Market or Logan Square Market you will often see me with one of my oldest behind the coolers.
This week just happens to be National Farmers Market Week 2021 so I thought I'd take some time to explore markets and what makes them so important to the local food system. Having worked at farmers markets for over 10 years I'm still a market junkie and often try to visit a local market even when on vacation. There are very few other places where you have the opportunity to connect with the actual folks that produce something that you use every day. The ability to speak directly to local producers and learn about their life and their products is such a gift.
What you might not realize is the same is true for the producers and farmers like us at Jake's! Being able to connect directly with our customers has literally had an impact on how we raise animals and what products and cuts we produce. It was through talking with folks at the markets that helped us decide to go NON-GMO years ago. It's been those same interactions that we decided to add poultry and now beef & goat to the farm and our markets.
Over time the group of vendors at each market forms a bit of a community. These are small businesses in our same field (pun not intended...) and many of us experience the same struggles. Personally, for me I look forward to the start of every market season, one to get outside, but two so I can catch up with Pat from Iron Creek or Josh from Underground Meats. Then once the market opens I'm excited to chat with Douglas about his home renovation or Melissa whose husband is a doctor. The personal connections are one of the things that help me get up at 2:45 am every market day.
Now I realize not everyone has the same experience with or connection to farmers markets. While writing this I thought it would be interesting to get feedback from friends outside the market world about their experience, so I jumped on Facebook and, as one friend commented, Tom Sayered some folks into writing this for me...
The feedback I received was so thoughtful and insightful. There was some great interactions as we pushed into why some folks don't or can't attend markets on a regular basis. I was also energized to hear that many folks take time to get to the market to connect with local producers and have a direct impact on their community. Fresh food was obviously a big factor for many. Surprisingly a number of folks stay away because they don't feel they can trust the source of the vegetables sold.
"Fake farmers! So many vendors at our local market are re-selling wholesale produce & posing as a “local farmer”. I’m happy to pay more for a truly juicy homegrown/farm grown tomato, but not when it’s the same hard one I can buy at Jewel for lots less $."
My encouragement to avoid this is to ask questions and know your local growing season. Brussel Sprouts in the spring? Not around here.
"Our local market doesn’t have enough produce. Too many things besides food. Mlms. I’d like to be able to do more of my weekly grocery shopping there but at least half is non edibles."
I get that. I'm fortunate that the Green City Market is only food. Markets need those tent fees and to generate traffic, but there aren't enough local producers to fill all the markets. A suggestion is to find one produce vendor, one meat vendor, etc and just visit them each week, ideally early to avoid the mobs. Early shoppers are real shoppers.
Another friend wrote these words that sum up much of what I feel. "So as a shopper I love the seasonal variety-eating that can really only be found at your local Market. I love knowing I'm supporting a small enterprise, probably a family, as well as my community. I like that this way of shopping promotes cooking and gets family super excited to see what goodies have come home. When I shop a Market I can honestly say I have a huge smile on my face and can hardly wait to speak with the next producer and see what 'treasure' there will be."
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