It’s City Market season once again, and that means plenty of fresh, locally grown produce is making its way to your table.

Farmers markets like this are an important means for transforming our region. To support your farmers market is to invest in your local economy, and it’s an easy way to live a healthy life.

For the past several years, advocates and community members within the Transform Rockford movement have been working towards achieving Blue Zones, a national movement to adopt the good habits of communities that live healthier, happier lives. Accomplishing a Blue Zones mindset means making the healthy choice the easiest choice. And it’s an easy choice to support your local farmers market.

Here are five reasons to support your farmers market right now.

  1. Healthier Eating

Plant-based diets are a major component of Blue Zones communities, and fresh produce is something you’ll find aplenty at your farmers market. And when we say fresh, we mean straight from the farm. In many cases, those leafy greens and fresh fruits were harvested just a few hours ago. By comparison, what you’ll find at the grocery store often is harvested before it’s ripe, thrown on a truck and stored in a warehouse before you pick it at the store.

Healthy eating means consuming a rainbow of colorful foods, and you’ll find an array of hues at your farmers market (purple peppers, anyone?) Plus, locally harvested food will have more nutrition because the fruit’s had more time to develop and less time to grow stale on a shelf.

  1. You Know What You’re Eating

When you buy from a vendor at the farmers market, you’re buying straight from the source. Local farmers are happy to share stories about themselves and their families, their farming processes, and their growing methods, including their use of pesticides and “organic” methods. They’re even happy to share fun recipe tips that make your purchase taste even better.

Food trucks are a common sight at many farmers markets, and those vendors, too, are happy to share where and how they source their products (it, too, may be locally sourced).

  1. Markets Build Community

Healthy choices aren’t solely focused on nutrition and exercise. The Blue Zones philosophy also emphasizes things like financial well-being, stress management, sense of community and sense of belonging. When you visit a farmers market, you’re enjoying fresh air and engagement with others – customer to farmer, customer to customer, farmer to farmer. You never know who you’re going to meet.

There are currently several markets in our region that residents can attend from City Market in downtown Rockford to Edgebrook Farmers Market, North End City Market, Rockford Midtown Market and Rockton River Market.

The newly launched Pasqua Mercado, an Italian farmers market at Lino’s Restaurant, in Rockford, is also using food to unite its east-side neighborhood, where you’ll find changing economic conditions and people of many income levels. Every Sunday from June 2-Aug. 11, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Lino’s Italian market will draw together local farmers and miscellaneous vendors, as well as stations with wine tastings, gelato, fresh-grilled food and other delights.

  1. Markets Also Build Healthier Communities

As OSF Saint Anthony Hospital seeks a Blue Zone certification for its east-Rockford campus, just across the street from Lino’s, it’s building other healthy traits that are closely intertwined with farmers markets. Dollars spent at the market go straight to local farmers, which helps to keep more of your money circulating through the local economy. Farms preserve greenspace, which keeps our cities looking less like a concrete jungle and more like a natural landscape. Enjoying all that fresh produce may also inspire you to grow your own fruits and vegetables at home, and gardening is a great way to stay active and reduce stress after work – also key traits of the Blue Zones philosophy.

  1. Fewer Miles to Your Table

Many farmers markets, including City Market, place restrictions on who can sell. They do that to ensure your farmers are as local as possible; most will come from within two hours. Compare that to the grocery store, which may source its produce from California, Mexico, and South or Central America – or other faraway places. Not only do those extra miles add to the cost of your product, but it also leaves a larger carbon footprint. How’s that for saving some “green?” So, make it a goal to hit up at least one, if not all, of our local markets this summer!