Farmers’ markets help keep not only our communities healthy but our environment too. Small farms have been leaders in adapting sustainable agricultural techniques that protect water and build healthy soils. They have revived growing techniques that don’t require as many chemical fertilizers and pesticides as some large operations do, and adapted to specific local growing conditions. Their hard work has helped prevent contamination of rivers, streams, lakes and oceans and often prevented farm workers from being exposed to chemicals that are known to pose health hazards.
Many small farms, whether they are certified “organic” or not, use sustainable approaches: the farmers you meet at these community markets often have only 20 or 30 acres or less and don’t have the option of moving their operations to new locations when the soil becomes unworkable. Their livelihood, and the health of the towns they live in, depends on sustainable growing techniques that preserve and replenish the fertility of their small patch of soil. Local growers protect our communities in another way. They typically plant a wide variety of crops, in contrast to some large industrial farms, which grow hundreds or thousands of acres of the same crop. Crop diversity is a good defense against the spread of damaging insects and plant pathogens. If a problem arises in one crop, it’s unlikely to spread to others. That’s not true of monocropping, where the spread of a pathogen can be catastrophic.
Finally, local farmers are a small but important part of the solution to the largest environmental challenges we face. We’re just beginning to understand the environmental consequences of shipping food long distances. Energy independence has become the rallying cry. Well, every time you buy something locally grown rather than shipped from halfway around the world, you reduce the amount of oil being burned and the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. All in all, you end up getting a lot from your food dollar when you spend it at a local farmers’ market, and that dollar goes right back into your community.