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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Farmers’ market has all the right ingredients

Eli Penberthy Special to The Spokesman-Review

To get to my job at the Spokane Farmers’ Market, I drive down fast-food row, past McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr, Pizza Hut, Taco Time and Subway. These institutions, promising big, convenient, fast, cheap food, are a stark contrast to the farmers’ market, located just a street away on Second Avenue between Division Street and Browne Avenue.

When I arrive, I am grateful to see the farmers setting up their white tents and proudly displaying their produce – freshly picked corn on the cob, fragrant cantaloupe, and brilliant bouquets of flowers. It affirms my hope that fast food is not necessarily the future of food in our country. After all, who would choose a breakfast sandwich, available every day of the year in nearly every country in the world, over a perfectly juicy Red Haven peach, a Northwest specialty that is ripe only a few weeks every summer?

Although it is humbly housed on a square of pavement that doubles as a church parking lot, the market sustains our community by providing food that is lovingly grown locally in ways beneficial to our health and the environment, by providing revenue to small family farms, and by encouraging an appreciative attitude toward the social importance of good food, a message largely lost in a fast-food culture.

People are enamored with the bounty and beauty of the market. Children, infamous for spurning green vegetables in favor of french fries, can be overwhelmed with the variety of colors at the farmers’ market. They will happily chomp on green beans if they are given the chance to pick them out themselves. Bringing them to the farmers’ market is a wonderful way to introduce them to healthy eating habits.

The elderly, too, appreciate fresh produce from the market. One regular customer, an 82-year-old retiree who rides the bus from Cheney every market day, credits his good health and longevity to a steady diet of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps he’s onto something. More than half our population is overweight or obese, so eating fresh, healthy food has never been so important.

Many people believe that local and organic food is too expensive, but we wish to change that misconception. This year, the farmers’ market is one of 62 markets across the state to host a nutrition education program, providing government-subsidized checks for low-income families and senior citizens to spend on fresh produce.

This makes healthy food accessible, while supporting our local farmers and strengthening our agricultural economy. These checks are still available at the offices of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and at senior centers throughout Spokane. They can be used until the market ends Oct. 29.

Good food is a powerful agent for bringing people together. We should support local farmers for the vital work they do. It costs one farmer more than $40 just to drive to the market to sell green beans and tomatoes, and another farmer wakes up at midnight to load his truck and make it to the market by early morning.

Consider the hidden costs of our supposedly “cheap” food sources. What is the cost to the land destroyed with chemicals and pesticides? What is the cost to our appreciation of good food, when large-scale food production and genetic engineering render fruits under ripe and tasteless? What is the cost to the farmer, who is paid mere pennies per pound for produce commercially distributed? What price do we pay for not knowing who grows our food, or how and where they do it?

Compared to other developed countries, we spend a small percentage of our incomes on what we eat, and we should think about investing more money in an issue that has such important health, environmental, economic and social implications.

Food is a social issue because it profoundly affects our lives and interactions, and like other social problems, such as poverty and racism, it will require collective action to change. The farmers’ market benefits our community, but it also requires community support to operate. It is a unique, valuable resource, and we must do what we can to make sure it thrives and continues to grow.

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