AMES, Iowa — Spring begins the farmers’ market season across Iowa. As Iowans seek fresh produce and support local growers, they should follow general guidelines to make sure locally-grown food is safe to eat.
Iowans shop at farmers’ markets for a variety of reasons, said Lindsay MacNab, a diet and exercise research assistant with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“Many people take comfort in knowing where their food comes from and the process that it undergoes from farm to marketplace. Local farmers’ markets support green living and are environmentally friendly. Markets also build local communities — consumers establish positive relationships with other shoppers as well as local growers and their families,” MacNab said.
The Iowa Farmers’ Market Association says Iowa ranks fourth in having the greatest number of farmers’ markets statewide. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Iowa has an estimated 99,000 consumers and 1,500 producers who actively participate in local markets.
Local and federal regulations are in place to ensure food safety at the marketplace, but food safety is always a concern. Food contamination can occur while food is growing in the fields or during harvest, processing, packing or distribution, MacNab said.
“It’s important to know the farmers at your local market and talk with them about their farm food safety plan and the treatment their products undergo before reaching the market,” MacNab said.
MacNab offers the following tips for shopping at farmers’ markets:
Farmers’ markets throughout Iowa accept Food Assistance Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, known as EBT cards, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.
Since the launch of the Wireless EBT Project in 2005, families receiving food assistance have been able to purchase healthy, locally-grown food using their EBT card at local farmers’ markets. Vendors who accept EBT cards will have a sign saying they accept EBT, Francis said. Iowans can obtain a list of participating farmers’ markets and farmers at http://www.dhs.state.ia.us/docs/6.12._Brochure_Comm284.pdf.
Purchasing healthy food at farmers’ markets is a step toward Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative. This privately led public initiative is intended to inspire Iowans and their communities throughout the state to improve their health and happiness.
“Another step to help Iowa become the healthiest state in the nation is the Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge,” Francis said. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes for a healthier lifestyle. For more information, visit www.LiveHealthyIowa.org. Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and ISU Extension and Outreach.
For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension and Outreach including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/healthnutrition.