I’ve been a Whole Foods customer ever since they replaced the closest local independent natural foods store. I value them for a few things – pretty reasonable prices on the few packaged foods we buy such as olive oil, maple syrup and gluten free pasta, but their produce section has come to be a matter of genuine dismay to me.
At my local Whole Foods, the majority of the produce is conventional. I find this to be so absurd in a so-called ‘natural’ foods store. The small section of organics is largely imported from Mexico or elsewhere, and the quality of the US-grown organic food is generally poor-to-moderate. From tasteless, overpriced fruit, to poorly stored green potatoes, it’s a rare thing to find an exceptional fresh fruit or veggie at this store.
And forget about shopping locally. On any given day, you will be lucky to find more than 2-3 produce items that are from your own state or, even less likely, your own region of your state at this Whole Foods.
Every couple of weeks, we take a 2 hour round trip to shop at one of the independent natural grocery stores that managed not to get put out of business by Whole Foods. There, the produce section is the most important area of the store – an area managed with tremendous pride. The fruits and veggies are not only 100% organic, but about 90% of them are grown within the state. It’s a whole different world and worth the drive just to shop there. This grocery store is all that Whole Foods fails, but pretends, to be.
Lucky for us, though, there is an even better option for local produce shopping. Within about a 5 mile radius of our home, there are 3 terrific organic farm stands. Two of them are seasonal and one is year-round. What we can’t grow ourselves, we buy from these local farmers. No way am I going to buy those tasteless old carrots from Whole Foods when I can get the genuine, sweet, crisp article just pulled out of the ground a couple of miles from my front door. There are so many reasons I prefer to shop directly from farmers. Here are a few:
- Instead of driving into the center of town, dealing with traffic, crowds and parking lots, we travel at a leisurely pace along the periphery, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the changing seasons in the countryside. I am peaceful and relaxed by the time I get out of the car to shop.
- Instead of walking into a fluorescently-lit concrete box to shop, cut off from fresh air and sunshine, I mosey into a creaky old barn where sunlight and fragrant breezes stream through the open barn doors. The division between the place the food was grown and the place it is sold is just a few old planks of wood. I’m treading earth in this environment – not linoleum – and that makes me feel more human.
- I can see the crops growing. There are birds darting everywhere. There are people in big hats out in the fields, bent over and laboring to pick the food I’m about to buy and eat. Nothing is hidden. I know where my food is coming from.
- I know the farmer and his farmhands. There is a critical difference between shopping directly from a farmer who has a personal investment in the quality of his food and passing through the line of a supermarket checkout stand where the person at the register has zero involvement in what is going into my grocery bags.
- I take my time looking at everything. At Whole Foods, I cannot wait to get out of that store. At the farm stands, my pace is leisurely. We chat with the farmer, say hello to dogs, get into conversations with other customers and end up trading recipes. I actually enjoy myself, being there. Considering how constant and time-consuming the acquisition of food is for every human being, shouldn’t we enjoy this never-ending task?
- I know the money I spend means I am supporting and securing the land for organic usage, rather than the application of deadly pesticides and herbicides. Every dollar I spend means that much less toxic pollution where I live. This is a profound investment.
- Each farm has its own unique qualities. One has amazing prices – $1 per pound for tomatoes and squash. I’d pay 3 times that much at Whole Foods. One grows an amazing variety of crops and they are of the best quality I’ve ever purchased. They are a bit more expensive than the first farm, but worth the money when we can afford it. The third has the freshest lettuce, and if you love salad like I do, you are offended by soggy supermarket lettuce and will definitely drive five miles to get the real thing – just picked and full of life! One farm stand has a record player and a box of old 60′s and 70′s records that create a funky, friendly atmosphere in the shop the way no piped-in supermarket music ever could. Another fills odd corners with gorgeous bouquets of just-cut flowers, making the whole room resemble a still life painting. Unlike the corporate sameness of the American supermarket, each stand has its own flavor – like the food – and that makes a meaningful difference in how I feel about shopping.
- I’ve achieved regular-customer status at the 3 local farm stands. This means I’m greeted with happy salutations when I arrive, extra fruits and vegetables are tucked in my bag, gratis, and I am repeatedly told that my business is truly appreciated. I work very hard for my modest income. What that earns me at a farm stand feels so good – an experience I simply never have at Whole Foods.
Nothing will ever top the satisfaction of growing and harvesting my own food, but I do not have enough land to grow everything we need. When it comes to supplementing what we grow, I have found meaningful benefits of psyche, conscience and spirit by buying from local farmers that are totally absent from Whole Foods. My whole mood and mindset is dramatically different when we’re wending our way off to the farm stand than it is when we’re rushing to and through the supermarket. Yes, I guess we’ll have to keep going to Whole Foods for packaged items – that is – until some enterprising local farmer starts making his own pasta and having his farming partner ship him maple syrup over from the East Coast. It could happen!
What do you think? I know how much I appreciate local farmers. Why do you shop at farm stands? Pay attention to how you feel about going there, and how that compares to the way you feel while at a supermarket. Do you notice a difference? Please, take the time to comment.
We cook it up in fabulous ways! Treat those farm fresh veggies with the love and care they deserve with The Vegan Reader Cookbook. Get this downloadable cookbook today and gain the skills you need to make staples like rice and almond milk, vegan cheese and gluten free breads from scratch, and so much more! Save money and eat better than you ever have in your life. This cookbook is based on 20 years of vegan cooking on our family farm! We’re sharing our best recipes with you, in one easy, affordable, downloadable book. Read More!