Hi, my name is Julia and I’m a farmers-market-aholic.
Every time I leave the farmers market with a couple full bags worth of fresh, locally grown, delicious food, I have the most conflicting feeling. Glee in the anticipation of soups, curries, stir-fry and paninis that will result from the colorful assortment of whole foods; guilt about the cash withdrawal that preceded my morning-long adventure to the market. The sun, the people, and the free samples make this trip one of my favorite weekend activities, but I can’t help but get nervous every time—did I just dip into my rent money to buy that arugula?
My friends affectionately call me the cheapest person they know. I never buy myself anything extraneous (haircuts count as extraneous). I’m a discount beast in the grocery store, sort of a toned down version of an Extreme Couponer. But at the farmers market, where tomatoes are more vibrant and flavorful than any one you may find in the conventional produce aisle and where a farmer recently described to me his cheese as “cow crack,” I struggle not to spend half my savings on squash.
More often, though, the pocketbook anxiety sets in. I simultaneously want to support sustainable farms and promote eating local, “real” food but I won’t buy organic bell peppers for four dollars per pound because I just cannot afford to do it every week.
I’m one of a mass of “young professionals” (we like to call ourselves that) attempting entry into the working world with a degree in something like Anthropology, in an expensive city. I’ve done the AmeriCorps thing, the unemployed thing, and the nonprofit thing (as we liberal arts types tend to do).
So, I’ll say it: I want more money. So I can buy more vegetables—the most delicious kind, which happen to always be the local, sustainably grown kind.
At the same time, I consider access to healthy and quality food to be one of the most important pieces of the movement to change our food system. I shouldn’t need to make very much in order to eat well—no one should. It should not be cheaper and easier to buy a pound of over processed chips than a pound of spinach. It should not be necessary to trade home cooked meals for 60 hour workweeks. Real access to sustainable, affordable food should be a right.
As a farmers market junkie on a budget, I’ve learned to get creative. Get to the market at the tail end when the peaches or zucchini may reduce in price. Find new ways to use or cook kale, cantaloupe, or eggs that make them last longer and generate more meals. Bring friends to the market who will split the cost and share the food (or in my case, encourage my goat cheese addiction).
Either way, once you start eating fresh, local food, it’s almost impossible to go back. More importantly, giving up the foods that truly nourish my body, and my community, would be too much goodness to lose.
Julia Jordan is a Food Day intern, and has spent the last couple years working to create equitable food systems in New Orleans. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Madeliene Kreider Carlson