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Farmers markets

06/01/07 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin sings the praises of farmers markets.

(KUNIN) The opening of farmers markets is a sure sign of spring.

Why is everybody smiling as they inspect the first radishes, spinach leaves and scallions, and taste a sample of cheese here, and smell the flowers there?

It's as if both the producers and the consumers have come out of their long hibernation into the warm sunlight, and are glad. Neighbors greet each other, friends stop to chat, nobody is in a hurry to get in line and move on.

Farmers markets humanize shopping: we not only know where our food comes from - we know who has produced it.

The bumper sticker "Buy Local" is becoming more visible and farmers markets more popular. It's not hard to figure out why.

Food tastes better when it doesn't have to be shipped thousands of miles, picked while it's still unripe, genetically engineered for endurance and appearance. Buying local lets us focus on nutrition and taste.

But buying local has other advantages. It saves energy, creates jobs and keeps farm land productive.

Think what is saved on plastic wrapping! The latest fad of hard plastic boxes for spinach and lettuce is annoyingly hard to open, difficult to dispose of, and takes energy to produce.

Is there any comparison between a locally grown ripe red tomato and the hard tasteless pale tomatoes of winter? Or, the locally grown fresh strawberries that are soon to be on the stands? Imported winter strawberries are bigger than ever and look gorgeous; the only problem is they don't taste like strawberries.

How can we get more locally grown food, year round? For starters, we could ask to have our supermarket produce labeled with the country or state of origin, as several European countries already do. Then if we want to - we would have the information to select food grown closer to home.

We could turn empty city lots into garden plots, create roof top gardens, and build more greenhouses.

More importantly, we need to have a distribution system that enables locally grown food to reach supermarkets more regularly.

In the meantime, we can encourage farmers markets to open twice a week instead of once, and to set up their stands in more locations. We, the consumers, can make farmers markets grow.

"Buying local" is more than a slogan, it can become a habit which is good for farmers, consumers, and for all of us who are asking: What can we do to slow global warming and create a sustainable environment?

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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