From savoring produce at the peak of freshness to meeting the people who grow your food, there are countless reasons to support farmers markets.

Taste and variety
The seasonal fruits and vegetables you buy at the farmers market are the freshest and tastiest available. Fruits are allowed to ripen fully in the field and are brought directly to you—no long-distance shipping, no gassing to simulate the ripening process, no sitting for weeks in storage. Local farmers often grow unusual varieties you’ll rarely find on supermarket shelves, and it’s grown in season. This food is as real as it gets—fresh from the farm.

Much food found in grocery stores is highly processed and grown using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification. Some of it has been irradiated, waxed or gassed in transit. These practices may have negative effects on human health. In contrast, most food found at the farmers market is minimally processed. Our farmers go to great lengths to grow the most nutritious produce possible by using sustainable organic techniques, picking produce right before the market, and growing heirloom varieties.

Go green
Food in the United States travels an average of 15,000 miles to get to your plate. This requires significant usage of natural resources, contributes to pollution and generates trash from excessive packaging. Conventional agriculture also uses more resources than sustainable farming, and contributes to polluting water, land and air with harmful agricultural byproducts. Local farmers transport their food shorter distances and generally grow with methods that minimize impact on the environment.

Support your local economy
Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from local farmers gives them a better return for their crops and a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.

The Peachtree Road Farmers Market is located at the Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road. The market, now in its ninth year, continues Saturdays through December. Photo by Isadora Pennington

“The Local Food Impact: What if Georgians Ate Georgia Produce?” explores the potential economic impact of Georgia consumers purchasing more locally grown food products. The study reports that, if each of the approximately 3.7 million households in the state devoted $10 per week to locally grown products from Georgia, it would add more than $1.9 billion back into the state’s economy.

Know your farmer, know your food
Shopping at the farmers market is by far the best way to connect with where your food comes from. Meeting and talking to food artisans and farmers is a rare opportunity to learn more about how and where the food is produced. It’s also a great chance to help your kids make the connection between farming and the food they eat.

Fresh local food  is for everyone
There are 12 Atlanta farmers markets who accept and double SNAP/EBT benefits. The benefits are doubled through the Wholesome Wave GA program, and make produce and locally grown products more accessible to all Georgia residents.

Few grocery store cashiers will give you tips on how to cook the ingredients you buy, but farmers, growers and artisans at the farmers market are often passionate cooks with plenty of free advice about how to prepare the foods they are selling. You can also attend free seasonal cooking demonstrations by leading Atlanta chefs each week at 10 a.m. at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market.

Wouldn’t you rather stroll along outdoor booths of fresh produce on a sunny day than roll your cart around a grocery store with artificial lights and piped-in music? Coming to the farmers market makes shopping a pleasure rather than a chore. Meet the local Master Gardeners, enjoy live music, and get a free health screening. The farmers market is a community hub—a place to meet up with your friends, bring your children, or just get a taste of small-town life in the midst of our wonderful, big city.

Lauren Carey is the market manager for the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, which is open Saturday mornings through
Dec. 19.