There isn’t much that beats waking up on a sunny Saturday morning and heading out to the local open-air farmer’s market. Strolling through stalls of gloriously colorful produce and plants and watching the bustling throngs of people chatting and nibbling on bits of honeycrisp apples and sipping coffee, their totes teeming with greens is enough to make every heart sing. Each booth is an offering: a bounty of locally harvested goods from fruits and vegetables to honeys, jams, breads and pastries to fresh cut flowers and succulents.
Farmers markets are an integral aspect of community. They offer farm-fresh, seasonal produce at wholesale prices so you don’t have to go through a distributor, and can stock up on fresh foods for the week. And when I say fresh, I mean fresh.
I stopped by the NYC Greenmarket at Union Square to grab a few goodies and learned from one of the sellers that “the majority of products at the greenmarket are harvested less than 24 hours before being sold.” The goods come “straight from the farm each morning…(and) the products travel a very short distance, ensuring premium quality and greater food safety and traceability.” Tossing up a summer salad with greens plucked straight from the earth? Yes, please!
Get intimate with the farm, get intimate with your body.
Much of the food we purchase at large chain grocery stores in the U.S. is over-processed and shipped from great distances. The product is so far removed from its source, and there is no way to know how the food we are ingesting is loaded with pesticides and hormones, and furthermore, what corporation we are indirectly supporting. Large food companies are interested primarily in profit, not in distributing wholesome, nutritious foods.
When opting to source your food from a farmers market, you can rest assured that you are supporting small farms directly. The best part of visiting your local market is meeting the people spend their days growing and distributing fresh produce. Not only can you learn about the origin of the food, but you can get to know the people who are farming and distributing it, and learn about their trade. Many farmers, bakers, and harvesters support their business solely by selling directly to local consumers. Ask them about it! Where are they based? What got them into farming? Is it a family business? What is it like growing produce year round? What are the struggles, the joys?
Purchasing processed food and produce from a grocery store not only blurs the full scope of what it is we are eating with false advertising and nutritional claims, it causes the ingestion of food to become an abstract act. Food becomes a source of quick energy to keep us going, a source of pleasure, or a coping mechanism. There is little thought regarding what went into manifesting this source of nourishment. The earth possesses an innate sacred energy, and when we eat food directly from the earth, we are interacting directly with our natural roots.
Mindful eating is about being grateful for the food which nourishes us, and being thankful for the gift of nourishment. Sourcing foods directly from local farms allows us to learn about the process of creating the foods we eat, the way it was grown, and where it was grown. Food grows seasonally, and yet somehow we are able to purchase certain produce all year round at the store without questioning it. Ask your farmer about eating seasonally, and how they grow different crops year-round.
Eating mindfully has immense benefits on the physical body as well as the mental and spiritual body. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Buddhist meditation master and teacher and founder of Shambhala says, “When you eat with awareness, you find that there is more space, more beauty. You begin to watch yourself, to see yourself, and you notice how clumsy you are or how accurate you are.”
When you practice awareness, everything becomes majestic and good. You begin to see that you have been leading a different kind of life in the past. You had the essence of mindfulness already, but you hadn’t discovered it.
Seriously, eat local!
Treat your body with the respect it deserves and opt for whole, organic foods. Free of pesticides and rich with higher nutrient levels than processed foods, organic locally-grown food has a direct correlation to your health, energy levels, and radiance. Eating slower, learning about the source of your food, and developing a more intimate relationship with preparing meals for yourself helps you to foster mindfulness and care for yourself and others.
Food is a source of life, and every living being should have access to healthy options. Many farmers markets now accept EBT and food stamps so that fresh, wholesome food is accessible to everyone. Many of the Union Square vendors also donate their unsold produce to City Harvest, so that soup kitchens can have access to fresh food as well. Supporting those who are working to level the playing field when it comes to getting healthy food is so vital, and each time you opt to go local, you are helping others get access to real, whole foods.
Share the joy of earth’s natural bounties with your loved ones and those around you. Visiting a farmers market with friends and family is a treat, and going home to make and eat a meal together is a way of spreading love to your immediate and surrounding community.
In the Los Angeles area? Be sure to check out the Cafe at Wanderlust Hollywood for unique, good-for-you eats.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.