It’s that time of year again—just as the Earth is awakening from its wintry slumber, another familiar and beloved routine will merge with the fresh smells and favorable temps in Jefferson County: Market Season.

And the timing couldn’t be better. As the slow/local/farm-raised food movement gains ever more traction in the modern consumer marketplace, Farmers Markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and business that support local products are responding to consumer demand, and multiplying accordingly. You’ll notice that we’ve listed quite a few local enterprises endeavoring to get quality, local products and services to area folks in our 2016 Guide to Shopping Local. The Eastern Panhandle alone now comprises nearly a dozen Farmers Markets—many of which we’ve listed in this helpful guide.

Purchasing local not only supports Jefferson County’s farmers, makers, and merchants, but the quality of product you procure is unmatched, as well as an added bonus—the shared experience.

Buying local not only allows you a chance to score some delicious eats, but you get the chance to converse with your local farmer or craftsman. And as far as the food is concerned, you’ll inevitably learn quite a few interesting things about the true value of your purchase.

Here are some quick points that highlight the value of buying local food:

1. Avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms): GMOs are associated with a wide range of health concerns that have emerged over the years. The government doesn’t require strict safety studies for genetically modified crops, so consumers essentially don’t know what their food is “made of,” which often means harmful chemicals.

2. Local food is better for you: the shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food.

3. Local food supports local families. The wholesale prices that farmers get for their products are low, often near the cost of production. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food.

4. Local food builds community. When you buy direct from a farmer, you’re engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the land, and your food.

5. Protecting the environment and the future: Well-managed farms provide ecosystem services—they conserve fertile soil, protect water sources, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Local food is an investment in the future. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow—which is a matter of importance for food security, especially in light of an uncertain energy future and our current reliance on fossil fuels to produce, package, distribute, and store food.

Webber

Megan Webber, Shepherdstown Farmers Market

Megan Webber, one of the market managers for the Shepherdstown Farmers Market, is eager for spring to come every year, but 2016 is especially exciting for her. “This is the twenty-fifth year for the Shepherdstown Farmers Market, and we’re excited to celebrate this huge milestone throughout the season—starting on March twentieth with a ribbon cutting and free market bags for the first twenty-five customers.”

Webber emphasizes that knowing where your food is coming from is more important than ever these days. “Farmers markets are a great opportunity to interact with those who grow and raise the food you eat, allowing you to ask questions and get answers about their farming practices, and how they work at being responsible stewards of the land that supports their livelihood. It’s a great place to meet your neighbors, enjoy local music, purchase local products, and join a community of farmers who want to provide you with the best they have to offer—and who are grateful for your support.”

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