By Lindsay Arbuckle
Every Saturday, you’ll find me selling our farm’s veggies at the Rutland Downtown Farmers’ Market. This is one of my favorite times each week, when I get to chat with customers about their home gardens, share recipes, and feel the love of the Rutland area’s committed market goers.
Rutland’s local farmers are blessed with a customer base that visits Depot Park every Saturday, rain or shine. Memorial Day weekend 2013 will go down in history as one of the coldest, windiest, rainiest markets on record, yet many regulars braved the weather to support the market vendors.
Besides the familiar faces, each week brings droves of interesting new market visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. This spring, we met folks from North Carolina who shared stories of their Ramp Festivals, celebrating wild leeks like the ones we were selling that day. And every single Saturday, we talk with locals who make us feel so grateful and happy to live in Rutland County, Vermont.
I like to think that the market is a place where anyone can come and feel comfortable. Customers include students, young families, elderly folks and everyone in between. You can come and buy salad greens, or you could come for Thai food. There are apples, herb plants, tamales, mushrooms, meat, fresh juices, vegan sandwiches, gluten free cupcakes, you name it. The vendors are friendly and willing to answer questions about their goods. Most of us like to chat and socialize with our customers.
Last Saturday, a young mother told me about her son who has been diagnosed with autism. She said that his behavior and well-being improved dramatically after shifting to fresh, organically grown food and cutting out artificial flavoring and colors.
I’m no health expert, but I think it’s pretty obvious that fresh food grown in the earth is healthier than artificial flavors created in a lab. I’m cautious about what I eat, and skeptical of the safety of most food in the grocery store. Around 70% of the food on supermarket shelves contains ingredients that have been genetically modified, often to withstand heavy doses of herbicide.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been in the news a lot lately as consumers have started to demand labeling and the right to know what’s in their food. As a general rule, you can assume that any “food” with corn, soy, sugar, or canola is GMO unless it is labeled as certified organic.
GMOs are a big topic to cover, but over 50 countries, including most of Europe, have banned them. Because wind blows pollen from field to field, there can be cross pollination; In other words, GMO crops invade non-GMO fields. More than anything, I think of health. These GMO foods have only been in grocery stores since the mid-1990s, yet twenty years later they are in almost three-quarters of what Americans eat. Kids today are eating entirely different food (if you can call it that) than their parents did as children.
Recent studies in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology indicate that rats fed GMO corn developed mammary tumors and suffered severe organ damage. Again, I’m no expert, but judging by the obvious, I’d say it’s best to avoid GMO foods.
Luckily for all of us in Rutland County, Vermont, the farmers market awaits with its bounty of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and more. We have the option of organic, pastured, grass-fed, free range, etc.
Best of all, every shopper at the farmers market has access to the people who have transformed the sun’s energy into nourishment for our bodies—he or she who grows the vegetables, raises the animals, and tends the orchards. If it’s not the farmer, whoever is tending the market booth surely knows the farmer, and can put you in touch. All shoppers have the ability to ask questions about how their food is produced, from start to finish. And how lucky are we as farmers to be able to look our customers in the eyes and tell them about our farm. This connection is priceless.
In this day and age, I recommend trusting your neighbor more than a giant food corporation with labs, lobbyists, and lawyers. Instead, come to the market, chat with the farmers, and fill your belly with delicious, nutritious, local food.
Lindsay Arbuckle & Scott Courcelle own Alchemy Gardens, a farm business growing vegetables and herbs in West Rutland. You can find more of Lindsay’s writing at AlchemyGardensVT.com
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.