Hello, kind krafters,
We Haligonians are a lucky bunch. Not only do we have three large farmers’ markets to choose from across our municipality, but the Halifax Seaport Market will be celebrating its 270th birthday next year. This makes Halifax, Nova Scotia, home to the oldest farmers’ market in North America. Our somewhat mild seasons sustain many long-established farms and their farmers in Nova Scotia, especially along the fertile Annapolis Valley.
Over the years, like many of us, I visited the market. These markets seemed like ivory towers: inaccessible and expensive for a student. I saw these visits as a treat and wandered around wistfully. But in 2018, I became engaged in sustainability efforts. The further I delved into the subject of community sustainability, the further I began to realize how deep and misinformed our cultural perceptions of farmers’ markets are. That’s how my New Years’ resolution came to be: I challenged myself to shop exclusively at farmers’ markets from January 1, 2019 to April 30, 2019. So, today, I wanted to share a couple of things I’ve learned and unlearned.
1. Fresh produce at farmers’ markets is expensive.
I agree – no matter what someone on the internet argues, for most people, food prices at markets match supermarket prices or are much higher. During this challenge, I had the privileged opportunity to not think about food vs. rent, and so I was able to dedicate my monthly budget to food purchases. If you’re purchasing food from a vendor at a farmer’s market or an independent store, you will not be seeing sales on onions or cucumbers or the same prices a corporation can set with their buying power. That said, a lot of this has come down to how we view food and our ability to purchase it. We all expect food not to take up too much of our budget. This expectation has only grown with the amount of convenience food and the globalization of mono-cropped produce. It’s also grown due to rising housing costs and expenses. We now pay for cell phones, wifi, transportation, and frequent social outings. As students, many of us leave school burdened with tens of thousands of debt. We all want to eat well, but when you’re stressed over bills or over life in general, stopping by the supermarket sale can take a little bit off your plate. In fact, that brings me to my next point.
2. There’s nothing fresh at the farmers’ market between December and May.
I don’t agree with this. There may not be the same selection as the summer months, but there’s still plenty, just not what we think of as ‘plenty’. I think part of this stems from how globalization has transformed our perception of food. When we walk into the supermarket, we expect to see plenty. That’s part of the consumer psychology that corporations spend millions to get us to keep going back – which I did! (More on that in my next point.) Seeing tomatoes, blueberries and corn in store all year round can disconnect us from understanding what food is. Yes, it may be disappointing to see that all that’s in season is leeks, cabbage, and carrots, but it makes seeing the first new vegetables of spring that much more exciting. Importantly, that excitement can be a grounding experience. Just as establishing relationships with farmers and vendors at markets can strengthen our sense of community, an awareness of the seasonality of food can ground us in the present and create a future we can look forward to. Here’s a handy guide to Nova Scotian seasonality: https://www.selectnovascotia.ca/seasonal-availability
3. If you shop at a farmers market, you’re cheating if you drop by the supermarket.
I don’t agree with this either. Because a few weeks into my challenge to eat exclusively from the market, I failed. I hadn’t had any fruit for weeks. A few friends of mine had brought fruit for lunch. The supermarket was having a sale. And so, I bought some strawberries at the beginning of February. I spent my time at the market the following weekend anxious and paranoid, like the strawberries had stained my hands berry red for all to see. There’s a certain cultural cache to being a farmers’ market frequenter: you care about the environment, sustainability, and ethics. For some, being a frequenter signals that you want everyone to know that you care. I’ll admit I felt like I was finally doing something for sustainability by eating asparagus only come late April, when it’s one of my favourite vegetables. That was a victory! But that fleeting moment of moral superiority was nothing compared to the guilt I felt over a few strawberries. My friends influenced me into buying them. It was a moment we bonded over food that would look similar to how a few friends might have bonded over the first strawberries of spring a hundred years ago. We’re social creatures. We don’t want to pay more for our food, but it’s still a massive aspect of our social life. My challenge never felt as though I had deprived myself, but it was restrictive at times, in that sense. What’s more relatable than bonding over super sales while miserably grocery shopping? Not to mention, I bought strawberries for cheaper than I have from the market in July. Even at that price they were a treat, as strawberries are now. So, I froze them, and they kept me going through that long winter.
When possible, when able, I believe shopping at farmers market should be first on everyone’s list. It’s still a far off world for me. In an ideal world, there would be no massive corporations running supermarkets. Our food system would be one with our growing seasons, and our new scale of relatability revolves around over upcoming produce – the first Valley peaches! The tomatoes, sun-grown vs. hothouse! Winter greens vs. spring greens! But for now, and as always, we work with what we’ve got.
What are your thoughts on accessibility and farmers markets, Kind Krafters?