Relationships

An emotional harvest at your local farmers market

Beyond the healthful veggies, you can also find a great sense of community at a farmers market

Special to The TribuneFebruary 5, 2013 

Baywood Park's farmers market, like other local markets, are offering not only snackables such as tamales and hummus, but also an increasing lineup of meal options from local restaurants and food vendors.

JOE JOHNSTON — Tribune Buy Photo

We know that farmers markets promote healthy bodies. But we often overlook the fact that they propagate emotional well-being, too.

For instance, farmers markets create community. We feel welcome as we meander among the fresh herbs and the collard greens. We enjoy chatting with like-minded shoppers. We understand the symbiosis between the growers and our dinner plates. We’re one with a larger, yet intimate, entity.

Community directly impacts our outlook. A Canadian study, “Community belonging and self-perceived health,” found that nearly two-thirds of those who felt a very strong or somewhat strong sense of community belonging reported excellent or very good general health. Only half of those with a very weak sense of belonging rated their health favorably.

Farmers markets foster trust. The atmosphere feels safe. We don’t worry about being bamboozled. We leave our worries in the car along with the briefcase and the dog.

This mindset has far-reaching implications. Research from Duke University found trusting seniors between the ages of 55 and 80 lived longer than their more suspicious contemporaries. Trust is also correlated with decreased stress, lower risks of cardiovascular disease, fewer digestive complaints and better sleep.

Farmers markets are a cornucopia of sights and sounds. At any one moment you might hear a musician strumming tunes, sample sweet raspberries on your tongue and see arrays of colored fruits and veggies on display. Each element contributes to a sensual salad that our brains and psyches willingly devour.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America lists brain-stimulating activities as one strategy for promoting brain health. In addition, sensory stimulation therapy is often used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, farmers markets are full of surprises. Something new lurks behind every E-Z Up and table. It might be the arrival of spring cherries or a bright orange cauliflower. Whatever it is, you know that it’s fresh — and that your body and soul will reap the bounty.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR FARMERS MARKET TRIPS

• Do a walk-though. Peruse the grounds before making your first purchase. Getting the full picture lets you know what’s new and in season.

• Devise a plan. You needn’t commit every item to a list. But it’s wise to have a general strategy. That way, you avoid getting sidetracked and you make sure to buy everything you need.

• Allow enough time. Don’t rush through the market. You’ll want to savor, sample and snoop. Plus, you’re likely to meet someone you haven’t seen in ages.

• Come hungry. There are always so many samples. Each merits a taste. Nibbling’s half the fun.

• Reach out to others. Ask the honey vendor about his hives. Share techniques about roasting San Marzano tomatoes. Most shoppers and vendors love the verbal repartée. Meanwhile, you’ll make new friends and connections.

• Set a monetary limit. It’s easy to overspend. When your set amount of cash is gone, it’s time to go home. You want to feel nourished, not depleted.

• Solicit advice. Not sure how to peel a pomegranate? Confused about how to prepare broccolini? Speak up! The vendors are happy to educate you. Many have recipes already printed up.

• Try something new. Buy something you’ve never seen or eaten. You may discover a brand new favorite.

• Thank the organizers. Farmers markets require a herculean effort. Everyone must pitch in to ensure success. You and the entire community reap what they have sown.

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