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I started cooking and it changed everything.

Jazz Glastra, Executive Director of the Canal Market District

100% local, farmers-market sourced salad with bacon leftover from the weekend, fresh yellow bell pepper, kale, and an egg over-easy. I swear, this isn't difficult!

100% local, farmers-market sourced salad with bacon leftover from the weekend, fresh yellow bell pepper, kale, and an egg over-easy. I swear, this isn't difficult!

During farmers market season, my husband and I plan our week around getting to the farmers market and buying the best of what the season has to offer. We look forward to walking through the market aisles, taking mental inventory of what each vendor is selling, and maybe buying a sweet treat before making decisions about what we want to bring home for the rest of the week. For us, this ritual is a social outing, a time to unplug from hectic work life, and a grocery trip all in one. And that doesn’t even take into account the free live music. Now that’s efficiency!

We didn’t always spend our time and our grocery budget this way, though. I’ve been interested in local food for many years, but I used to think that shopping almost exclusively at the farmers market just wasn’t practical. I thought it would cost too much, or I wouldn’t be able to find the ingredients that I needed for full meals. I was wrong.

For the first time in history, Americans now spend more money on food at restaurants than on groceries. A couple of years ago my husband and I sat down and really examined how much money we were spending on dining out versus cooking for ourselves and the results shocked us. We didn’t think we were too irresponsible—sure, we were buying lunch, but we didn’t go to fancy restaurants or run up big tabs at bars. Even still, the numbers were clear and we needed to make a change. We made a commitment to start planning our meals at the beginning of each week and cooking much more regularly. As a longtime supporter of local eating, I also wanted to start shopping as much as we could at farmers markets.

Summer's first strawberries. No recipe required.

Summer's first strawberries. No recipe required.

Here’s what happened: our overall food expenditures went way, way down. We both lost more than 20 pounds. Our cooking skills increased exponentially. We only actually have to buy things at the grocery store once every two weeks or so. Our stress levels decreased because we no longer wasted time trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. We learned the cycles of eating seasonally and now look forward to the first strawberry, the first tomato, and the first pumpkin of the year.

Perhaps most exciting, we started enjoying our food so much more. For one, the quality of what we could get local, super-fresh, and in season at the market was on a whole different level from the typical grocery store produce. And since we started developing relationships with farmers at the market, we also just appreciated the care and hard work that goes into it our food a heck of a lot more.

As an added bonus, a lot more of our money now goes to support local businesses. According to the New Economic Foundation, farmers market purchases generate twice the local economic impact as buying the same products from a grocery store.

These days, I get to help run a twice-weekly farmers market here in downtown Newark at the Canal Market District. If you haven’t made it down to our farmers markets on Tuesday and Friday evenings yet, my challenge to you is to put $30 in your pocket and make a point of coming down next week. You might be surprised at what you can find. From meat and eggs to fresh produce and even some pantry staples like oats—we’ve got the groceries. For the community of growers who rely on this market, your support really matters. Once you make a habit of it, you might be surprised by what else can happen when you shop, cook, and eat with the seasons.