Monday, July 26, 2010

Farm Aid's new intern explains how college students can eat well

JessicaHi, I’m Jessica Gagne and I’m Farm Aid’s new communications intern. This is my third week as a member of the Farm Aid staff. Before I started here, I didn’t really know much about what the modern day American farmer was up against. I never gave much thought as to where my food was coming from, or how far my food had to travel to get to my plate. I assumed farmers received a decent wage for the food they produced, and that the problems they face are the same economic problems that the rest of the country is struggling with at the moment.

I was very far off-base. In my first week here, I learned that our country has lost millions of farmers in the past few decades, and currently, hundreds of farmers a day are leaving the land in search of a profession that can actually pay their bills.

Even more unsettling is the fact that the US lacks the laws and regulations needed to protect family farmers from going under due to pressures from big corporations. There is a lot of information to take in about the state of agriculture in the U.S., and a lot of things that need changing. One of the important things I’ve learned so far here at Farm Aid is that I can make a difference by changing the things that I have control of. Where I spend my money is one of those things. By choosing to purchase locally grown food, I am helping to make a positive change for local farmers and in the food system overall.

As a college student in Boston, I realize the difficulties that young adults are facing when it comes to trying to eat more local food. One of the biggest issues is time, or a lack thereof. Trying to balance classes, homework, a job, and a social life doesn’t leave college kids with many spare hours to track down healthy, local meat and produce. Well no more excuses, because I have tracked it down for you. Check out this list of over 20 farmer’s markets located all over Boston, accessible by foot or by T.

Many of these markets are open on both weekdays and weekends, so no matter how busy you are, you can find a farmers market that fits your schedule. Hey, you have to eat sometime, so why not take thirty minutes to pick up healthy food and prepare a fresh meal, instead of taking five minutes to scarf down fast food, then spending two hours in the gym trying to burn it off?

Another major issue is expense. I am no stranger to living on a budget. I can recall times when I had to make $3 stretch for a week. It is easy to run to the ramen noodles in a situation like this, but there are ways to be frugal, and still eat fresh produce. From personal experience and a bit of research, I’ve discovered some money saving market tips:

1. Buy in Bulk – I have three roommates who love to eat just as much as I do, and are just as busy as I am. When one of us goes to the market, we generally grab food for everybody in the apartment to save time. It turns out, that usually saves us money too!

2. Buy Adventurously –You may go to the market with certain foods in mind, but they may be the most expensive things there that week. Why not try what is on sale? You may find a new favorite food!

3. Shop at Peak Season
– If there’s an abundance of a certain food, it usually has a discounted price to help sell it while its fresh. Do a five second Google search to see what is in peak season, and plan your meals around that.

4. Make Friends – If you go to market more than once, you will probably encounter the same farmers over and aver again. Be respectful, and make friends! After all, people are usually more willing to do favors for their friends.

Even if you are spending a bit more at the farmers market than you would spend at the big box store, try to keep in mind the extra 50 cents you are spending is going to help keep farmers doing what they are good at: growing good, healthy food.

I know we students have all heard of the benefits of following the Food Pyramid, but unless you are a nutrition major, you may tend to forget from time to time that pizza and beer aren’t on it (I forget a lot.). Here at Farm Aid, I get the benefit of learning something new about my food and family farmers everyday, and I hope to pass some of that information on to fellow students (or anyone who cares to know for that matter!).

Sustainable, local farming has health benefits, economic benefits, and reduces pollution. I know I am not going to change my twenty-three year old eating habits overnight, but with the information I am getting here at Farm Aid, I can make a more educated decision about what I am eating, and hopefully help our country gain more responsible farmers back in the process.

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