By NEIL ZAWICKI
Milton Farmers Market manager Keely Agan wants everyone to embrace fresh, local produce, and her motives are not as much economic as they are nutritional.
Agan grew up in Milton, and in 2016 graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. She managed the Williston Farmers Market while in college, and works as the Farm-to-School Coordinator with the Milton Town School District.
She says many families think of a farmers market as a novel place to buy one or two items at a high price, but the reality is such markets are a great source for better food at comparable prices.
“When you’re buying fresh, local food, you’re getting at its most peak ripeness,” she said, explaining how produce that travels from outside the state will lose nutrients by the time it finds its way to the dinner table.
“It’s not just better tasting when it’s fresh,” she said. “It’s actually at its best nutrient capacity. If you’re buying something that has traveled on a truck from California, it takes days to get to you.”
Still, Agan says perceived cost and familiarity with the produce are two elements that keep may shoppers away.
“There’s a ‘why is that healthy and how can I use that?’ part when people see things like garlic scapes or eggplant,” she said. But such items are versatile and packed with nutrients.
“A lot of families think farmers markets are so much more expensive,” she said, “but studies have shown that if you’re buying in-season fruits and vegetables, most are the same price or lower than the same you’ll find in the grocery store.”
In fact, the Milton Farmers Market, and many others, accept payment from 3SquaresVT, more commonly known as food stamps, and the Women, Infant and Children program. Another federal program called Crop Cash lets markets match $10 through tokens to let families on such assistance maximize their buying power.
The Milton market is open each Thursday evening in the Hannaford Parking lot, and offers live music and food games for kids, such as Veggie People, where they can build figures— Mr. Potato Head style— from fresh produce, and then earn $2 vouchers toward shopping at the market.
The market typically features 11 vendors, that majority of which are local farmers selling produce.
“When we choose our fresh, local veggies , we can appreciate what our farmers do to get us the best produce through their hard work and dedication,” said Heidi Kobera of Bergeron Produce, one of the vendors at the market.