How Produce at the H’burg Farmers Market Doesn’t Waste Away


Here’s an appalling statistic: we waste 40 percent of our food in this country.

I recently read a Grist article by Nathanael Johnson that addressed the abundance of food waste at farmers markets, and I wanted to see how our market in Harrisonburg compares. As it turns out, our  community must be ahead of the game, because the sparse amount of leftovers we have are put to good use.

“We never sell day-old bread,” Eldon Bowman says with a smile, while persuading me to purchase one of his daughter’s tempting breadsticks. They never sell day-old bread because they never have day-old bread, he explains. His daughter, Abbey Whetsel, is the owner of Staff of Life Baking and Bowman helps her set up shop. At the end of the day, they’ll swap Whetsel’s leftover bread with another vendor’s leftover onions. The last 15 minutes of every market usually consist of vendors trading their produce with each other. I don’t know why this takes me by surprise because I think this, in itself, is a fail-proof way to reduce food waste at farmers markets.

I am also surprised by the number of vendors who say they don’t usually have any leftover produce. A guy selling all types of greens says he takes his leftovers to another market in Verona, and the sweet, Southern lady at the booth beside him laughs and says, “Well, I eat ‘em.”

Some of the vendors at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market give their unsold produce to the food pantry at Blessed Sacrament, which seems like another perfectly logical thing to do. A nonprofit organization of gleaners, called the Society of St. Andrew, or SoSA, also frequents the market to pick up leftovers and distribute them to local food banks and food pantries.

So the Harrisonburg Farmers Market is pretty efficient at dealing with any leftovers it may have, which makes one of the suggestions to end food waste at markets proposed in Johnson’s article seem pretty ridiculous. He says raising the cost of food will cut down on waste, as higher food prices will make consumers better appreciate their food. And I definitely see where he’s coming from – I’d have a much harder time throwing out a $5 head of lettuce than one that only cost $3. But with higher prices, I don’t think the produce will sell as easily, and Farmer Joe will still have tons of leftover food. If no one’s standing in line to buy his $3 head of lettuce, then he’ll certainly have a harder time pushing one that costs $5, and he’ll end up having to take more of his produce back home with him. That won’t necessarily be wasting it, but if he doesn’t donate it or eat it himself, then what will he do?

It’s no surprise that lowering the price of older produce will help it sell faster. I stopped at a booth with $3 turnips for sale and “turnip seconds,” or turnips that were slightly older with a few bad spots, for only $2. I bought the older ones. I was happy to save a buck and the turnips are equally as delectable.

So to Johnson, I say, good thinking, and to the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, I say, even better thinking.

This post was supported by the Riner Rentals writing partnership program.

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