In response to the need for more sustainable food production, in 1999 the UK government published a better quality of life: a strategy for sustainable development in the UK. The Strategy defines sustainable development as ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It comes under Strategy 21, agreed upon at the Rio Earth Summit held in 1992.
If you’re wondering why that matters to a farmer’s market blog, it’s because the kind of farmers who sell their produce at farmers markets are exactly those who use sustainable practices to produce their food. By the late 1990’s farmers markets had begun appearing all over the country and, along with TV programmes about the environment and an increased public interest in consuming good food, they are active participants the revolution to making food not just sustainable, but better.
So why does sustainable food matter to you, as a consumer?
Pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, and even genetic modification, are used to promote and and enhance the growth of most of the food we eat. This has a knock-on effect on our bodies, and the environment, sometimes irreversibly, since these chemicals become part of the food chain once they are introduced.
Organic food is produced without any chemicals. It takes several years of careful maintenance and back-breaking labour to remove all traces of chemicals from the ground before the food it produces can be called organic. This is an expensive and painstaking endeavour on the part of the farmer, but the end benefit is a better environment, and a healthier you.
Free range food applies to animals (you don’t see many free range carrots these days). Thanks to factory farming, many animals, from chickens to pigs, are kept in cramped, cruel and unhygienic cages or stalls. The combined misery of so many millions of animals is not only unethical, it produces poorer quality meat. Growth promoting feed means they are rarely mature when slaughtered, and a broad range of antibiotics, given to stop the diseases these cramped conditions give rise to, are often still in the food when you eat it.
Free range food allows animals produced for food to lead a more natural life, with pigs allowed to root around in fields and woodlands, and chickens running free all day and roosting in sheds at night. Because they are able to groom themselves, and are not constrained in small spaces, disease is less prevalent and muscle meat is properly developed. Free range eggs and meat is thus not only more sustainable, it’s healthier to consume and better tasting.
The word permaculture comes from ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, and describes an ethic for living lightly on the planet. It means living more in tune with nature and how it produces food, and thus making people less of a burden on the environment. Permaculture is about planning and planting for future generations. It promotes biodiversity and provides abundant food-sources for pollinating insects like bees. From deeper, cleaner soil to complimentary planting to eliminate the need for pesticides, permaculture is often practiced by small local farmers who want to produce the best they can in the most sustainable way possible.
Many organic farmers employ permaculture design to successfully grow more food on less land. It eliminates the need for chemicals on crops, meaning food is purer and thus healthier.
Because they’re not producing huge cash crops for massive supermarket chains, a local farmer can accommodate a more diverse range of produce. Whether it’s traditional breeds of cattle, sheep or pigs, forgotten apple varieties, original strains of vegetables such as purple carrots, stripey beetroot and old-fashioned tomatoes, you can find them at a farmers market. It means you have more interest, taste and variety in your diet, as well as having the opportunity to get hold of produce you simply can’t find in a supermarket.
Older variety produce is naturally hardier than most ‘bog-standard’ food, and thus better resists disease and pests. It also keeps diversity alive in our food, so our great-grandchildren aren’t left with a choice of orange carrots or nothing in the future.
You can find food at most of the markets you encounter, but not all those markets sell local food – many traders buy their stock from various parts of the country (or world) for resale. At a farmers market, however – that is, one certified by FARMA – the food is sold by the same hands that produced it. So, not only are the traders you find at a farmers market knowledgeable about their food, their food has only traveled a few dozen miles (or less) to get to you. In terms of sustainability, this is awesome. Coupled with the labour intensive (rather than machine-intensive) methods small farming entails, the carbon footprint of a farmers market is pretty light. This is a big tick in the box for Strategy 21, and for the planet.
Taunton Farmers Market
Taunton Farmers Market is certified by FARMA. All it’s members, be they farmers or artisan producers, come from the local area. Because it’s raised, grown or made with care, it’s better than supermarket food and it comes from the very soil of your local area. By supporting your farmers market, you are supporting your own environment and keeping old traditions, varieties and the planet alive.