One of the benefits of shopping at the was apparent recently on a sign advertising strawberries at Orange County Produce’s booth. It said, “Harvested This Morning.” The strawberries it had for sale at the market had been picked in the morning hours just before the market opened. It could accomplish that, of course, because Orange County Produce’s farm is local; it is less than 10 miles up the road in Irvine.
That freshness of the produce at the market is because, for the most part, the farms selling fruits and vegetables are local, some are from Orange County, the rest from other parts of Southern California. This “localness” is something the farmers market has over the supermarkets in the area. The fruit and vegetables are simply fresher. But the advantages to the consumer and even the community as a whole are even greater than that.
What's the Berry Difference?
The strawberries we see in the have been picked and packed, then shipped to a packinghouse, then to a distributor and finally to the area supers, meaning that those berries sold at the farmers market are fresher by several days at the very least. And that is only if they had been local to begin with.
With produce, time is of the essence. Most produce begins to deteriorate as it is harvested. It loses water and becomes dehydrated. Molds and bacteria go to work on it, as well, leading to rot. Due to the high sugar content of ripe fruit, rotting occurs more quickly when it is harvested. Molds and bacteria feed on the high sugar content of ripe fruit, accelerating the process.
Consequently, the fruit bound for supermarkets tends to be picked under-ripe. In fact, even the larger farms at the Laguna Niguel Farmers' Market—such as Riverside-based Tilden Farms, for example—send the vast majority of their produce to the packinghouse but bring their ripest fruit to the farmers market. The ripe fruit simply won’t hold up to the rigors of the transportation and storage required to get produce to the supermarkets.
What this means is that not only is the produce at the farmers market riper, but it is also, on average, of better quality. This quality difference is more than the freshness and ripeness of the produce. The small farms that sell at the market are less inclined to use chemicals—and in smaller volume when they do—than the large corporate growers. First, the large variety of produce these small farmers grow means pest infestations are less likely and tend to be less severe than the giant single-crop farms of the corporate growers.
The second reason is one of economics: agricultural chemicals are expensive; small farmers living with low profit margins simply can’t afford them like the big guys can.
Buying at the farmers market gives you, on balance, fresher, riper and less chemical-laden produce than you can get in the supermarkets. In addition, in many cases you are actually buying from the people who grew the food. In fact, in every case, the person selling the produce at the market is only one or two degrees of separation from the farmer himself. You can talk to them about the fruits and vegetables. Unlike the supermarket grocer, they know the food's history and pedigree.
Keeping It in the Neighborhood
Besides, because the farms are local, when you shop at the farmers market, your money stays in the area. The farmers and their employees live, work and shop right here, spending locally and contributing to the economy of the area.
Farming is an ancient tradition, said Jennifer Griffith, the market manager of the Laguna Niguel Farmers’ Market, and that tradition should be preserved. “It’s our food. What’s more important than our food?”
At the Laguna Niguel Farmers’ Market in April:
Orange County strawberries abound this month, including berries from Irvine, Fountain Valley and Yorba Linda.
Citrus still holds strong, with Murcott and pixie tangerines as sweet as candy. Tilden Farms has the first of its Valencia juice oranges.
Berumen Farms has radishes, kohlrabi, Spanish onions, as well as Yorba Linda-grown strawberries.
Beyond Bok Choy Farms is brimming over with greens, including Swiss chard, spinach, and red and green dandelions. It also has the market’s first fresh basil.
You’ll also find the most beautiful lettuce you’ve ever seen alongside artichokes, asparagus, onions and garlic, pink lady apples and Anjou pears.
- Don't forget to pick up beautiful Easter lilies.