For those of you who like challenges, I have a challenge for you: don’t buy anything from a store for one year.
Was I able to do this? Not 100 percent, I gave myself a five item per month limit since I wasn’t sure how feasible this was.
Everything else? The Farmers’ Market (with an occasional meal out at a restaurant, food shared by friends, and an item or two from the Free Market).
What I discovered is that the Peterborough Farmers’ Market is certainly a gem within this city. Few other municipalities have a truly local, independent, and thriving market quite like this one.
Back at the end of March, when I was doing this challenge, I still had access to apples, microgreens, carrots, beets, turnips, onions, spinach, cilantro, mushrooms, leeks, potatoes and sweet potatoes, shallots, garlic, and the list could go on.
The farmers’ market is great for procuring truly local veggies but it also provides easy access to conventionally farmed produce like tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers and by buying food there you are still cutting out middle-men and supporting families directly.
Asides from produce, you can find tons amazing things at the Farmers’ Market like locally harvested wild rice; stone-ground heritage grains; goat milk, cheese, and yogurt; smoked fish; preserves (jam, pickles, relish, beets); meat from animals that have been shown great care from their farmer-friends; teas; herbal medicines; soap; even hula hoops. Yep, hula hoops!
(And if this ever-cheerful vendor turns up with her hoops and you witness a 70 year old man reclaiming his youth and giving his hips a wiggle, well, it’s just great).
From my experience with this challenge over the past year, here are some conclusions I’ve made.
There are some items that one would think are hard to find ways around, but actually aren’t. To begin:
Dishsoap/laundry soap/shampoo: just shave a bar of homemade soap with a cheese grater and mix with water- et voila: liquid soap!
Moisturizer: horizontally traded coconut oil is sometimes at the market and can last a long time. And there are some vendors that sell homemade ointments. But here’s a tip: the more soap you use, the drier your skin will get! Those natural oils on your skin are essential and supposed to be there!
Spices and herbs: sometimes you can find these items here as well! Vendors have dried and ground their own plants. Although, I’ll admit, sometimes I run out and have to be creative with how to flavour meals.
Salt: you can actually find this at the horizontal coffee and chocolate traders!
However, there are some essential items that the market just does not have alternatives for. Toilet paper is one example (unless you want to get hardcore and use washable cloths like the No Impact Man from NYC).
Non-animal-based proteins is another one if you’re on a vegetarian/vegan diet. There are unfortunately no beans, lentils, or nuts at the market (asides from peanuts from the bird-seed vendor… Yep, I eat these).
Conventional contraceptives ,although these can be avoided by learning natural alternatives (check out Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olsen); razors (if you shave); menstrual products (but there are alternatives for these as well which are much less wasteful including menstrual cups and reusable cotton liners); cleaning sprays (but you can make your own vinegar-based cleaning agent); and then there are those guilty snacking pleasures… (cough-chips-cough).
There are many reasons why it’s important to take up this anti-store challenge. First, you’ll be supporting local entrepreneurs and therefore avoiding middle-men costs and corporate profit. You’ll also be breaking down the corporate pyramid and promoting social justice and equality, and evading neoliberal trade policies.
From an environmental standpoint, your diet will be much less dependent on fossil fuels and you can develop a sense of place and connection to the land and climate within which you live.
For me, my sense of gratitude grew very strong for food from our local areas. Plus, you will easily find a variety of organic, pesticide, and GMO-free foods.
Avoiding unnecessary packaging is another positive of shopping at the Farmers’ Market, as you are able to return your egg cartons, mason jars, and maple syrup bottles.
In fact, many farmers will let you empty the produce from their plastic bags directly into yours so that they can re-use them for someone who wasn’t thinking as far ahead as you.
At a community level, shopping at the market will enable you to develop relationships with the people who grew or made or prepared the food that will nourish your body. You will begin to run into familiar faces that you see around campus or town but don’t necessarily have time to stop and chat with; thus, it is a space to really strengthen your sense of community every week.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this challenge is incredibly healthy for your mind, body, and spirit!