“As the sun rises, market stand holders are hard at work, preparing their offerings for an exciting day at the farmers market in Lancaster, PA,” states Discover Lancaster’s website; the organization works to promote Lancaster County and draw tourists and locals out to support area businesses.
Lancaster County is known for its sprawling farm lands, old-world charm, and, of course, the Amish. These aspects of the county come together in an abundance of farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands, along with a variety of other markets and stores that support local community members.
The Food Marketing Institute has stated that their research shows that buying local and sustainable foods has been a trend over the last 8 years. This means that people, especially those in areas like Lancaster county, are devoted to supporting their communities through the process of buying local produce and other food items.
Amy Shorner-Johnson, an Elizabethtown resident and Assistant Chaplain at Elizabethtown College, says that her family enjoys supporting local agriculture through the purchase of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. The CSA box is delivered every week to a set pick-up location and provides Shorner-Johnson’s family with a variety of fruits and vegetables from a local farm.
This specific CSA program runs from May to November every year and supplies diverse produce that may not be a common choice for families otherwise such as bok choy or kohlrabi. Shorner-Johnson says that the mix of items forces her to be creative with recipes that her family will enjoy.
In addition to providing the opportunity for creativity, Shorner-Johnson said she enjoys having access to seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“I like eating things in season…the flavor is just better,” she stated.
The ability to access produce as they become seasonally available is not the only appeal for people shopping for produce locally. Shopping at local farmers’ markets allows people to support their neighbors who, in turn, support other local businesses through their own spending.
The Farmers Market Coalition says that farms that sell locally provide ten more jobs per $1 million in revenue versus just three from farms that do not sell locally. As large farms continue to grow and small farms struggle to make ends meet, it is ever essential that local farmers receive support from their neighbors.
“I think that local farms will be the way forward versus the really big farms,” Shorner-Johnson said.
Small, local farms have the ability to remain more sustainable than larger farms in their production methods, but also with their transport methods. Most food at farmers markets comes from within a 50 mile span, says the Farmers Market Coalition. This limited travel saves money and gas compared to larger farms that send their produce hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away causing harm to the environment through the creation of excess emissions.
Unfortunately, even with the benefits that come from buying local, some people are unable to participate regularly in this process. One Elizabethtown College student expressed her interest in the trend to buy local but said she does not feel especially engaged in the issue.
“I think it would influence my decision more if I was the one buying groceries for my household, but I’m not,” junior Savannah Martinez said.
Still, Martinez said that her hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland is similar to Elizabethtown in its abundance of farmers markets and produce stands, and while she is aware that these businesses can benefit the community, she sees issues with the trend.
“I would like to buy locally more, but I know it’s not easily accessible for everyone,” Martinez said.
While farmers markets often have cheaper prices than grocery stores this isn’t well advertised, and many local citizens may be concerned about the potential costs of buying local. Additionally, the nature of farmers markets often leads them to have limited open periods either by only being open certain days of the week or by having only a short number of open hours.
Even though local farmers may face challenges to produce products and then market those in a way that is easily accessible to all community members, they still have the potential to support initiatives within the community that draw the attention of potential customers while helping neighbors. Many local farmers donate left over produce to food banks or other charitable causes. This both reduces the amount of food waste created from extra produce and supports needs within local communities.
The impacts of buying locally grown and sold food products are diverse and have the potential to be wide-reaching within a local community. Shorner-Johnson believes that by buying from local farmers, people have the ability to inspire change and make positive impacts within their communities.
“It’s not going to be huge, it’s not going to change the world, but it will make an impact,” she said.