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Thinking Beyond the Table: Where is Your Food Coming From?

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woman shopping at a farmers market

Have you ever asked yourself: “Where did these foods come from, and how were they produced?” Most would answer that they are simply from the grocery store, but there is a more complex and long process to how produce ends up on the store shelves than you might think. A simpler way of purchasing produce and helping grow your community is by going to your local farmers market. 

The process of producing food is laborious, starting with growing the crops to processing and transporting them for sale at a food market to preparing and consuming the food. Understanding how food gets from a farm to a table is an important part of making informed decisions about the food you consume daily. No need to venture out to rural farmlands to become informed. Just visit your local farmers market and speak with local farmers while you shop for seasonal and fresh produce, handmade goods and pantry staples. Farmers markets serve a crucial role in their communities as they provide consumers with access to the freshest local produce available. The inventory of local produce/foods reflect a region’s agriculture and seasons. 

What is a farmers market?

At a farmers market, farmers sell products directly to consumers. The markets are a place to connect farmers, consumers and communities. The markets vary in size—from a small number of vendors hosted seasonally to year-round markets with hundreds of vendors. Farmers markets are a great place to find your regular groceries and introduce you to products you may not be able to purchase from commercial supermarkets. According to Farmers Market Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets across the United States, the number of farmers markets in the country has grown from just under 2,000 in 1994 to nearly 7,000 markets registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory.

A study showed that approximately 78% of farms selling directly to consumers sold their food within a 100-mile radius of their farm and more than half of farmers traveled less than 10 miles to their markets according to the USDA. This allows farmers to harvest the fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness and/or flavor. Foods grown and picked in their peak seasons are more nutrient dense than when picked out of season. Read more about eating with the seasons.

In addition, since farmers themselves are selling at markets, customers have the unique opportunity to ask about the food production process. Farmers can teach their customers about farming  practices, from the types of  chemicals used to the harvesting practices implemented to yield the best possible products. These conversations with farmers are also an opportunity for consumers to provide direct feedback on the products. It allows producers to consider what their customers and community value from the healthfulness of their food to sustainability.

Can shopping at a farmers market help me eat healthier? 

A study published in Nutrition Journal found farmers market customers consume more fruits and vegetables—foods that are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables are great additions to your diet since they should make up half of your daily food intake.

Social benefits of farmers markets

Not only do farmers markets provide the basic need for food, but they also provide social benefits to the local community. Farmers markets have been found to promote food access, food and agriculture education, community building and civic engagement. Community and social connection are necessary for living a healthy lifestyle. Robust scientific findings reported by the U.S. Surgeon General conclude that social connection is a significant predictor of longevity and better physical, cognitive and mental health, while social isolation and loneliness are significant predictors of premature death and poor health. Simply put, make a point to keep in touch with the people around you.

Each of us can remember to think beyond the table. Where our food comes from, how it gets to us and who we share our meals with all impact the way we eat and our overall health. Visit a farmers market in your area to pick up fresh foods and connect with your local farmers. If you have questions about the best foods for your optimal health, schedule a nutrition consultation with a Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist. Call 972.560.2655 or visit

Article provided by Primo Ines, Texas A&M University Dietetic Intern & Graduate Student, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.