Local food on a student budget

The New Brunswick Food Security Action Network contends that purchasing local food stimulates the local economy, promotes food security and reduces greenhouse gas emissions arising from otherwise lengthy transportation requirements. While prices for local produce and meats are often slightly higher than those in grocery stores, vendors at the Sackville Farmers Market are eager to help students access fresh local food, offering tips on finding deals and maximizing the value of purchases.

“It’s always worthwhile to talk to farmers to find out if they have seconds,” said vendor and customer Michael Freeman. “Seconds” are vegetables offered at a discount that are still perfectly good to eat but are blemished, misshapen or otherwise flawed and cannot be sold at market price. For example, he said, “Some partially ripened tomatoes are still good for sauce.”

The importance of talking to vendors is further displayed through their product knowledge and promotional offers. Farmers from Raised from the Bed Farms highlight microgreens as having good value for what you get, stating that they have more nutrients per weight than fully grown plants.

Shelley Dixon of Dixon’s Beef pointed to special bulk purchase offers: “If you buy four, you get the fifth one free.” She went on to suggest that students could take advantage of these bulk discounts by shopping in groups. Dixon recognized versatility as an important factor for buying in bulk, using ground beef as an example: “There’s so many different things you can do with it.” She can also offer suggestions on what to do with other cheaper cuts, like round steak and stew meat.

Aside from talking to vendors, Monique Silver, a third-year fine arts student, found benefits in reducing food waste. “Market veggies are fresh, so they last longer,” she said. “They’re not going to rot in my fridge.” Several vendors also spoke to the importance of storage in maximizing the value of fresh local foods. “Any leafy green likes to be stored at cold temperature with high humidity, in a plastic bag or Tupperware container,” said Jessy Wysmyk of Wysmykal Farms. “If you just put them in the fridge, they’re going to wilt. Carrots and beets also need cold and high humidity,” while “potatoes and onions like a cool dark place. Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers can hang out in your fridge.”

“You know where it’s coming from,” said Katie Luiker, a fourth-year biology student, when asked why buying local is important. “There’s less packaging on the veggies.” Answering to the same question, Megan Moffatt, a fifth-year chemistry student, asserted that “The market is a great place to meet members of the community, and you get fresher, more tasty food at lower energy cost.” These ideas speak to non-monetary values associated with purchasing local food, and suggest that the higher costs of local food could be compensated for by environmental and social benefits.

Still, when local food is economically inaccessible, Freeman pointed out ’s thoughts remind that students can find opportunity in talking to farmers. “Farmers need to know there’s interest. They won’t necessarily bring food if they don’t know someone’s going to buy it,” explained Freeman. “Building relationships with farmers so they can figure out what their low budget clientele is going to want is an important way to get that stuff to come to market. It never hurts to ask.”

The Sackville Farmers Market runs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. The market is held outside in Bill Johnstone Memorial Park through October, before moving inside to the Sackville Commons (64 Main St.) for the winter.

Andrew Linton
Andrew Linton is a contributor to the Argosy, writing the column 'Keeping up with the Climate.'