“Buy fresh, buy local.” We’ve all heard the phrase countless times. These days, it’s much more than an agricultural slogan. It’s a national trend.

Farmers’ markets have exploded in popularity during recent decades. For consumers, these markets offer an opportunity to purchase fresh, seasonal, locally-grown food that’s healthy not only for the body, but for the planet, too. The USDA states that 78% of farms sell their direct-to-market produce within a 100-mile range of the farm, which greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel used in transportation. Grocery store chains don’t offer the same farm-to-table timeline. Fresh food travels an average of 1,500 miles before winding up in a typical grocery store. That’s roughly half the width of the United States!

Between 1994 and 2019, the number of farmers’ markets in the US grew from 1,755 to 8,771. California saw a similar increase on a state level. The Golden State currently hosts more than 700 certified farmers’ markets, supporting an estimated 2,500-4,000 producers along the way. No other state can offer such a wide diversity of freshly-grown produce, which means California’s farmers’ markets are some of the best in the country. Even so, there was a time where their future looked doubtful.

Farmers’ markets thrived in California during the 1930s before becoming virtually nonexistent during the 1950s and ’60s, thanks to a number of regulations aimed at successfully promoting California agriculture to the rest of the country. Most of those regulations were geared to the mass market, making it difficult for small growers to bypass wholesale distributors. Strict standards were enacted across the state, specifying the size, color, and ripeness for tree fruit and produce. These standards were meant to increase the food’s success at a supermarket. However, they also resulted in tons of irregular-sized tree fruit going to waste.

Things began to change during the 1970s, thanks in large part to the Direct Marketing Act of 1976. This piece of legislation allowed small growers to sell directly to consumers with less hassle and, ultimately, more success. The process cut out the middle-man, brought farmers and consumers together, and supported local economies. Today, most Californians live within driving distance of a thriving farmers’ market.

At the Davis Farmers Market outside of Sacramento, cherries have recently become available. At the Visalia Farmers Market in the Central Valley, kumquats, artichokes, and strawberries are all hot items. In Vacaville, the city’s weekly farmers market just opened for the summer and will run through October. These markets will begin offering different seasonal items as spring weather gives way to summer heat, so consumers are encouraged to visit often. To find a market closest to you, check out this list.

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