On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Discover Oklahoma's Farmers Markets

As warmer days and spring showers arrive, producers across Oklahoma are anxiously waiting to plant their crops and open shop in local farmers markets. This March, over 300 Oklahomans gathered for the second annual Oklahoma Farmers Market Conference, hosted by the Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education project, or ONIE.

The purpose of the ONIE project is to improve the health of Oklahoma families by offering various nutrition and physical activity programming, information and education materials throughout the state. This year’s conference was organized with the help of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; OKDHS; OSU/OKC; Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance; Edible OKC; and INTEGRIS dietitian and farmers market enthusiast Pam Patty, RD, LD, and certified master gardener.

With these credentials, it was easy to see why the 300+ attendees were excited to attend and learn at the event. However, the question remains: why should the average consumer go to farmers markets?

Why Shop Local?


Vegetable stand

The popularity of farmers markets has fluctuated in the last few decades, with big-box stores becoming the norm. As consumers have been conditioned to one-stop shopping, farmers markets have found it difficult to spread the word about their produce, locations and availability. With 77 registered farmers markets in Oklahoma, more options are available for consumers than ever before. From supporting the local economy to helping your family explore new types of produce, to the health benefits of eating fresh and local produce, the benefits of shopping local are immeasurable.

Health Benefits

It’s no surprise that Oklahoma continuously ranks poorly in national health rankings. From a high prevalence of obesity to a high rate of cardiovascular deaths, we are fighting to improve the health and wellness of this beautiful state we call home. When you shop from local farmers markets, you are purchasing produce that has retained the optimal amount of nutrients because it has been picked recently, and has not traveled thousands of miles before reaching your plate. Produce sold in big-box stores is often treated with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification, in addition to being irradiated, waxed or gassed in transit. These processes greatly reduce the nutritional quality of the produce. When you purchase food from a local farmers market, it is minimally processed and the only transit time it has gone through is the ride from the farm to the market. The result? Produce that is not only better for your body, but it also looks and tastes better.

Community Benefits

The benefits of shopping at your local farmers market go far beyond the nutritional benefits. When you shop local, you are supporting your local economy and building relationships with the community. Agriculture is one of the top industries in Oklahoma, and it provides stability to the state when other industries fluctuate. While it feels great to know you are supporting the local economy, you may be surprised by the spirit of camaraderie, fellowship and friendship you will find at your local farmers market. This deep connection to local vendors and producers is often a huge reason why consumers return to a farmers market week after week.

Better Food

Local produce is grown only in season, so you will become much more aware of what produce you should buy during different times of the year. While you may crave tomatoes year-round, nothing compares to eating a locally grown tomato in the summer. Once you begin eating local produce grown in its appropriate season, it is difficult to go back to produce that has been grown in other climates and shipped across the world. The taste, appearance and quality of locally grown produce is hard to beat.

Because farmers have the flexibility to grow various crops, instead of providing just one crop to a supplier, you will often find a variety of produce in your local farmers market that you would not find elsewhere. As you explore the fruits of the farmers’ labor, don’t be afraid to ask the farmer to identify different items or to suggest ways to prepare unusual fruits and vegetables. If you have kids, taking them to a farmers market is the perfect way to let them explore new items and educate them on nutritional qualities. Children’s natural curiosity is piqued at a market, and children who previously hated vegetables can often be swayed to try something new.

INTEGRIS dietitian Pam Patty is passionate about educating the public on the importance of local produce. She believes the engagement of kids is necessary to make changes in our state’s health. For farmers market organizers and producers, it is imperative that they make farmers markets kid-friendly. For parents, exploring a farmers market is the ideal way to step outside the familiar boundaries of food and try new things.

Affordability

Robert John, Ph.D., of the ONIE project, spoke at the Farmers Market Conference on the results of several of his team’s research projects. One of the main concerns for families on a tight budget is the belief that farmers markets don’t offer affordable options. However, this is generally not true as products at farmers markets are priced competitively, despite the significant increase in quality.

Additionally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is now accepted at many farmers markets across Oklahoma. This program allows consumers of all ages, incomes and family sizes to enjoy the nutritional benefits of farm-fresh produce and choose how to best feed their families. This map shows every SNAP-accepting farmers market in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Farmers Market Conference was a smashing success this year. From local producers to the different government sectors trying to bring awareness about the markets and SNAP program, there has never been a better time than now to visit your local farmers market!

For a list of farmers markets in the metro area, check out Oklahoma City Metro Farmers Markets.

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