Connecticut's farmers markets are in full swing. On the town greens in Trumbull, Kent, Middletown, Danbury and New Milford, in downtown parking lots in Greenwich, Shelton and Darien, at Grace Baptist church in Waterbury and the Old State House in Hartford, the community center in Rowayton and a playground in Bristol, on Wall Street in Bridgeport, Main Street in Stamford, Orange Street in New Haven and at 48 other sites around Connecticut, farmers and eaters come together to celebrate their mutual dependence and to help sustain each other.
Just 12 years ago, there were fewer than 20 farmers markets in Connecticut. This year, at 63 markets around the state, 183 farmers sell their fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers directly to consumers.
Local farmers need people to buy and eat the food they grow-to appreciate the flowers and enjoy the herbs. Everyone who eats needs farmers. Many of us yearn for the real flavor of fresh local produce and for a connection to the seasonality of fruits and vegetables grown nearby.
Farmers Markets are an ancient, yet still very effective way to make these connections. Held at a regular time and place, usually once a week, local farmers set up displays of their produce in these "sell-only-what-you-grow" markets, supervised by the Department of Agriculture and local health districts. Some markets started in May. All of them are open by now (when the always-popular corn and tomatoes begin to ripen) and they keep going well into the fall.
Farmers Markets allow growers and eaters to get to know each other. An important part of many cultures around the world, they are growing in popularity, not just in Connecticut, but all over the United States. Farmers markets are an almost pure example of the free-market system. They are critical to a sustainable, local economy and are essential in order to protect and preserve farms in our communities. If farmers here can't sell what they grow, their farms will become subdivisions and strip malls, the final crop.
"Farmers markets are very hot," says Rick Macsuga, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture employee most responsible for the tremendous growth in Farmers Markets in this state. He noted that while it used to be hard to get some towns to accept the idea of having a market, now they come to him requesting one. Some are even proposing permanent structures in town to accommodate this local economic activity. However, more farmers are needed to meet the demand.
The distribution sector of the food system has grown to take the lion's share of the money we spend on food, 80 cents out of every dollar. The food cartel has become so powerful that it can drive down the prices paid to farmers and drive up consumer costs, while it takes advantage of as many government subsidies and tax benefits as possible. Farmers Markets are one of our most effective tools for altering this unsustainable situation.
Here, customers are interested in freshness and flavor. They crave a more direct experience than that provided by supermarket produce that's traveled all the way from Chile or California. They like being able to talk to the farmers, to ask about varieties and to learn more about growing methods.
On Tuesday afternoon, Suzanne and I took our garlic and flowers to the market in Seymour. This is our fourth year there, and it was great to see so many old friends and regular customers.
Here's a few tips for those shopping at a farmers market for the first time. Visit all the farm displays first to see what's available. Ask questions. Get some cooking ideas. When you shop early, you get the biggest selection. Shopping late offers the best bargains. Many farmers will take special orders.
A listing of the Farmers Markets in Connecticut is available from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06106. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Hope to see you soon at the Farmers Market!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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