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Farmers’ markets: harvesting good health

Published on December 02, 2013

A mother and daughter speak to one of the farmer vendors at the EBW Winter Farmers' Market. Photo: Lyle Sadavoy.
Find a winter farmers' market near you for good health all year long (Photo: Lyle Sadavoy)

By Melissa Lem

It’s that wonderful time of year again when snowflakes float through the air, holiday lights twinkle and the fall harvest is done. One great place to celebrate the season is right around the corner—at your local farmers’ market.

Not only is exploring a farmers’ market a fun way to spend a sunny morning, but it’s also a healthy way. In fact, a 2011 study of two growers’ markets in California demonstrated significantly improved eating habits and physical activity levels among its new customers. On the other hand, over half of Canadian adults fall short of their recommended seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, increasing their risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Thankfully the number of farmers’ markets in many provinces has more than tripled over the past decade, making it easier to get your fresh fix!

Farmers’ markets are also fantastic for building strong social connections and neighbourhoods. Shoppers cite a better sense of community, as well as the enjoyment of interacting with farmers and other patrons, as major reasons for strolling the stands. Health-care and municipal organizations are getting in on the action too, and for good reason. Reports on medical-centre-based “farmacies” and coupon programs across the United States show that families with better access buy more fresh produce—a boon to both their own health and the livelihoods of nearby farmers.

Last but not least, farmers’ markets are surprisingly good for your wallet. A study of a low-income neighbourhood in London, Ontario, saw the advent of a wider variety of fruits and vegetables after a local market opened in 2006, not to mention neighbourhood grocery prices that dropped 12 percent within three years. Another 2010 paper from Vermont comparing farmers’ markets to grocery stores revealed that organic produce was a whopping 39 percent cheaper.

So head on down to the Evergreen Brick Works Winter Farmers’ Market and others for a heaping dose of good health! And while you’re there, be sure to thank your local growers for keeping your pantry full this holiday season and beyond.

A member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Melissa Lem is a Toronto family doctor who also works in rural and remote communities across Canada. She can also be seen making regular appearances on CBC's Steven and Chris.