BERLIN — Word hasn’t quite gotten out yet about the new farmers’ market near Atlantic General Hospital so the small group there spent a relatively slow July 4 afternoon fending off a combination of heat and boredom. The new market was initiated by Crystal Mumford, an AGH employee health assistant who is on the hospital’s wellness committee.
The wellness committee identifies opportunities that allow hospital workers to take advantage of programs that will improve their lives. Among other things, the committee works with the Worcester County Health Department on a smoking cessation program for employees.
It also sponsors awareness days and encourages healthy living through exercise so procuring access to fresh nutritious food seemed the next logical step.
Mumford went to the community to get the farmers’ market started, securing the proper permits and contacting the Berlin Farmers’ Market to stir up interest.
“It’s just one more way to inspire our associates to make healthy food choices,” said Mumford. “And, it’s great exposure for our vendors and helps to raise awareness of the many other farmers’ markets that are held in our communities.”
In Berlin, the market is so popular that it has more interested participants than it has space to put them. Most of the vendors at the AGH Farmers’ Market were shut out of participating in Berlin and were happy to be able to gain access to the booming local market through the hospital. That is the primary reason Joanne Smithson set up her preserves stand there.
“They already have two jelly people at the Berlin Farmers’ Market,” she said. “So when Chrystal called and asked if I wanted to come here I was happy to.”
With the exception of a few exotic ingredients — rhubarb, agave and tropical citrus — Smithson’s jams are either picked or grown by her and her two daughters.
As part of the healthy living aspect of the project, she now makes some of her jams and jellies with agave nectar instead of sugar. It’s healthier and lower in calories and makes a wise choice even if it has to be imported. Many of her products are sugar-free, though, making them completely local.
Peter Uprichard, the bread guy from the Berlin Farmers’ Market, decided to participate as well. His whole wheat breads are made from grains grown on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, making the whole wheat tomato basil bread one of the few strictly local breads available in the region.
Vegetable vendors Monday included Julie Reason of McGee Farms in Selbyville, Del. and Adelle and Eddie Diaz of the Good Farm in Berlin, giving hospital employees the opportunity to purchase an entire meal, including dessert without ingredients from more than 100 miles away.
The economic and environmental benefits are clear. Almost every nickel spent at a farmers’ market stays in the local economy and, being from small family farms, are not a subject to the wild swings in oil prices that agribusiness tends to be.
Ecologically, the organic practices reduce the amount of nutrients headed into local waterways along with any pesticides or other chemicals needed to run factory farms. But setting aside the lack of chemical content, eating locally produced food is among the healthiest dietary choices a person can make.
The nutrients we get from plants have a direct relationship to how much nutrients the plant gets from the ground. Plants picked green and allowed to ripen might get enough of their natural color to look edible and often taste just fine. Plants that are picked ripe and sold locally have the maximum nutritional benefit, something nutritionists have long recognized.
One of the difficulties in eating healthy is that in the grocery store, frozen vegetables, for example, are preferable to fresh vegetables because they are picked ripe and retain most of their nutrients during the freezing process. Frozen vegetables don’t make much of a salad, however.
With the advent of this new farmers’ market on the AGH campus, people interested in getting the healthiest meals possible have a second bite at the apple, as it were.
The market is open every noon-4 p.m. every Monday through October, extending the local farmers’ market opportunities through the beginning of the week and is expected to grow to accommodate as many of the kinds of vendors as can be found at the Berlin Farmers’ Market.