While much of the United States sleeps in on weekend mornings, a quiet revolution goes on in America. We are taking charge of the food we eat and supporting our communities by shopping at farmer’s markets. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are nearly 3,000 farmer’s markets throughout the country where every summer weekend we buy and sell fresh, organic produce, swap recipes with neighbors, and generally revel in the vitality of local markets.
Why the rise in farmer’s markets? Our health, our earth, and our community. Health is the number-one reason that markets are popping up everywhere. As Americans have become increasingly health conscious, we have increased the amount of fruit and vegetables in our diets, and insisted on the freshest and best-tasting produce available.
The earth is another reason for farmer’s markets’ popularity. We want assurance that growing methods are not only non-toxic, natural, and safe for us, but safe for the soil as well. Be certain to ask farmer’s market vendors whether they use chemicals to fertilize crops or control pests.
The sense of community also contributes to our support of farmer’s markets. When we shop at a local market, we are backing local, family-owned businesses. Small farmers may provide the highest quality produce, but they are endangered as they are increasingly unable to compete with larger corporate farms. NH
While shopping at your local farmer’s market, alongside the usual organic produce you may have noticed some oddly shaped, unusually colored, and rather beautiful produce labeled “heirloom.” Gardeners may have noticed a similar phenomenon in seed catalogs—heirloom seeds for vegetables, fruit, flowers, and herbs. Heirloom produce is a trend in both eating and growing, but exactly what is it? And why is it important?
Heirloom seeds are defined as seeds twenty-five or more years old; some can be traced to the Mayflower, some even farther back in our agricultural history. These are seeds old enough to have escaped the boom in hybridization, the controlled cross between two genetically-different plants to produce seeds that yield uniform plants that are more vigorous and predictable to grow.
In hybrids, the original parent plants, and their unique genetic makeup, are often lost to us forever. Retaining genetic diversity is the basis of the heirloom seed movement. Other factors driving the movement are preserving the history of our native and historical foods and the beauty and uniqueness of our crops.
Organizations Working to Save Our Agricultural History
For more information on heirloom seeds and plants contact one of the organizations at the forefront of the heirloom movement.
Seed Savers Exchange
This nonprofit membership organization was started in 1975 to rescue old-time food crops from extinction. Its 8,000 members are working to preserve over 11,000 unique varieties of garden vegetables and fruits. For membership information or to receive a catalog, contact Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 N. Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101.
This nonprofit membership organization is working to conserve the traditional crops, seeds, and farming methods that have sustained native peoples throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.