Written By: Joris Van Zeghbroeck

It is spring and that means that the produce aisle is beginning to change with the season. Older storage yukon gold potatoes are getting replaced with shiny ones fresh out of the ground, sprouting garlic is being swapped out with fresh bulbs, and local greens are being restocked after a long winter. This seasonal change is even more abundant at your local farmers market. Farmers markets focus on bringing seasonal foods to local communities for as much of the year as possible. This looks different across the country based on the climate and local agriculture communities. In northern cities like Indianapolis, you can visit a farmers market year round! In the summer months, you will find a bountiful selection of crops, however, in the winter this selection begins to dwindle as farmers transition to selling storage crops like potatoes, apples, and beets, waiting out the cold. Once spring blossoms, the markets’ erupt with spring crops like tender sweet leafy greens, spicy crisp radishes, and buttery hakurei turnips! In southern cities like Miami, with their subtropical climate, this transition looks very different. In the winter farmers are harvesting and selling crisp fresh lettuce, pints of bright cherry tomatoes, and dark rich eggplants. As spring approaches and the heat begins to take a toll farmers move away from their annual crops and begin preparing for perennial tropical fruits like mangos, dragon fruits, mamey, and sapote! Unlike large scale grocery stores, local farms are not trying to provide a consistent set of offerings across the entire year, but are instead focusing on listening and responding to the environment as the seasons change. 

The Benefit of Local Small Farms

Local farms are more likely to implement agricultural practices that work with and respond to nature, reducing the environmental impacts of farming. From year to year farmers rotate their crops to maintain soil nutrient levels and reduce the amount of insect pests thus decreasing or even eliminating the need for chemicals. Small farms also grow a diverse set of crops on their farms increasing local biodiversity. This expands far beyond the plants they sow into their fields and includes higher amounts of insect, bird, and animal species above ground as well as fungal and bacterial species in the soil which are beneficial to the environment and us! Finally small farms implement cyclical systems that retain as many nutrients and water resources on the farm as possible. Therefore, local farms often use less water and fertilizers by implementing practices like mulching and cover cropping which protect the soil from drying out and stimulate the soil microbiome to recycle nutrients that already exist in the soil.

Every time the season changes local farms demonstrate their dedication as stewards of the land by adjusting and responding to the changing environment to produce nutritional food for their communities while nurturing local ecosystems. However, the benefits of small farms do not stop in the ecological realm. Small farms and local food systems are more nimble and responsive than larger ones and able to adjust their growing practices and business models to meet the needs of their local communities. This was no more evident than at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When our Miami market entered lock down like so many other cities, an increased number of families became unsure how they would afford to put their next meal on the table and at what point they would be able to go back to work. Common Threads was faced with reevaluating how to continue serving our mission when we were unable to implement our programming. With generous funding from Florida Blue we were able to partner with a local produce distributor providing 200 families from our partner schools with 30 lbs of locally grown produce for 6 straight weeks. Through the power of local farms and food networks we were able to ensure that families had access to nutrient dense and delicious produce further allowing us to expand and deepen the impact of our programming. As our commitment grows for supporting local produce, we have launched a Farm to School program in our Chicago market in partnership with the USDA that incorporates cooking and nutrition education with the added focus on the benefits and importance of local food sourcing. This program partners with Chicago Public Schools and 3 urban farms, giving students the opportunity to visit the farms and bring the produce back to their school to use in meals they get to cook and share with fellow students. 

Local farms provide a unique and valuable resource to communities and are an essential part of our work as an organization. Show your dedication to the environment for National Gardening Month and Earth Day by going out and supporting your local farms and food purveyors. Visit the USDA’s Local Food Directory to explore which farmers markets exist near you and what they are doing in their fields and in the community. Not only will you be helping the environment but you will also be helping support your community! 


Joris has been with Common Threads for over 3 years working as a Program Manager in Miami. FL and Fort Worth, TX. Additionally, he manages the tracking and reporting of Common Threads’ program data. Before working at Common Threads, he worked on building and supporting school gardens in Indianapolis. Joris has an M.S. in Soil Science with a concentration in Agroecology and is passionate about how we can make agricultural systems more sustainable and equitable for communities and the environment.