Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Nothing signals the advent of summer like a garden-fresh tomato or fresh-picked cucumber, sliced and seasoned with a hint of salt or pepper – merely thinking about it makes one's mouth pucker in anticipation of that first bite.
“I think it's the fresh thing,” said Dawn Seeton, whose family participated last year in the Jacksonville Farmers Market. “Vegetables grown from your area just taste so much better than what you get in the store, because it's picked at peak ripeness.”
While the family has always kept a garden for personal consumption, “Seeton Farms” – which goes by the motto “From the land to the stand” – was launched by her 16-year-old son Taylor, who Seeton says “is the farmer.'
“He had an uncle that had stands at farmers markets and (roadside ones); when he passed away, (Taylor) decided” to carry on that tradition, Seeton said. “Last year was our first year, and we'll be doing it again – we've got more planted this year, and we're looking forward to this summer.”
In Rusk, the local farmers market opened Thursday at Barb's Too restaurant at 1007 S. Dickinson, and will be held weekly from 5 p.m. until the produce runs out. The Jacksonville farmers market opens for the season at 5 p.m. Tuesday, held weekly at 100 S. Bonner St.
What makes a farmers market truly local?
“The farmer selling to you actually had a hand in growing or producing” the crops, explained Carmen Sosa, organizer of the Tyler Community Food Coalition. “It was not brought in from another far-away city, state or country – a quality market will ensure that produce sold at the market is grown within a well-defined 'local region.'”
In this case, the produce sold is grown within 75 miles of the market in which it is sold, she said.
“Any exceptions, such as citrus fruit grown in the (Rio Grande Valley), must be discussed among and decided upon by all of our market members,” she said. “It just helps ensure the integrity of the market.”
Farmers markets appeal to consumers because “most people like to know where their foods are coming from – it is comforting to know that they are grown right in your own back yard so to speak,” said Cherokee County extension agent Wendi Green, who oversees the family and consumer sciences division.
“Foods picked at the peak of freshness offer top quality and taste beyond compare,” she said. “Sure, supermarket produce might look an awful lot like a magazine picture, but the farmer’s market produce was probably picked within the past 24 hours.”
Cherokee County Public Health executive director Chris Taylor concurred.
“Eating locally grown produce that hasn’t traveled hundreds or thousands of miles means you are getting a product that is much more 'fresh' than others claim to be (and) it means people have access to less pre-packaged food,” he said.
This, in turn, impacts consumers' health, making market place produce stands – even roadside stands – an “unrivaled source for the best and most nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables,” Green said.
“Fresh produce is a crucial part of a healthy diet, (packing) a punch when it comes to nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and fiber,” she said. “When compared to canned or frozen; the taste simply can't be beat. And now, with our local season starting up, our daily dose of fresh is easier than ever.
“When you’re at a farmers market you know this just came out of the fields; you just can’t get much fresher than this,” Green added.
On different level, health concerns are taken seriously by vendors, who follow regulations that “support the sustainability of a market, while simultaneously keeping our residents safe,” and work closely with Public Health, Taylor said.
While consumers may be focused on getting the freshest produce available, their purchase of locally grown items – at open markets, roadside stands or from grocery stores that opt to sell local produce – impacts the community economically.
“This not only boosts the local economy, but (caters) to that niche market and clientele as well,” Green pointed out. “It's the best of both worlds.
Sosa pointed out the “innumerable benefits” of supporting local farmers markets.
“You are creating a community around food. You are directly supporting local agriculture and the local economy. You are helping a farmer maintain a sustainable business and that can mean saving some of our precious land from becoming a shopping mall,” she said. “Shopping at a farmers market is a wonderful chance to experience a unique social energy, meet your neighbors, visitors and local artisans, and shake the hand of the person that grew your food. That's something you just can't experience at the corner grocery store.”
Taylor agreed that “buying local just makes sense.”
And, he added, “it connects a generation of people who do not know what it it's like to grow their own food and eat it.
“This is a gift we need to give our children,” he said. “Because of that, it is an extremely important resource to our community.”
For the Seeton family, it's about a fun, rewarding endeavor that brings their family yet even closer together.
“It's a very fun project. We love it,” she said, encouraging others with summer gardens to consider taking their produce to the local farmers' market. “It's very rewarding.”