By Savanah Mandeville • Photos by Mandy Edmonson

Note:  Empire Market is transitioning to online orders and curbside pickup only, for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Starting Tuesday at 8 p.m through Thursday at 8 p.m) you’ll be able to order from the comfort of your home, then drive thru on Saturday morning to pick up your lovingly (and safely) packed order, from someone in an adorable face mask. To order online:

il Have you ever wondered where your food comes from?

If you frequently get your groceries from Walmart or another big retailer, there’s a good chance it has come from far, far away — on average, 1,200 miles away.

In order to have such a wide variety of food available to us in the supermarket, retailers must source food from around the globe. But journeys of thousands of miles, often by air, make our food supply a major contributor to greenhouse emissions and climate change, not to mention heavily reliant on a finite resource: oil.

Shopping at Joplin Empire Market, 931 E. Fourth St., is an opportunity to close the gap between the farm and your table. The indoor, four-season market offers a wide variety of produce, meats, breads, spices and other products from local farmers, bakers and artisans.

“People who come shop at the Market and buy, say, a loaf of bread or head of lettuce or in-season produce, the average it has traveled is nine miles,” said Ivy Hagedorn, market coordinator. “So buying local produce is usually the best way to get the freshest, the ripest, and, many times, the safest kinds of food you can get, and you’re supporting your own communities by doing so.”

The market is producer-only, meaning anyone who sells there must have grown or created the item themselves. The maximum distance a vendor can travel to sell at the market is 150 miles.

“You can always be assured the product you’re buying is coming directly from the person who grew it or made it,” Hagedorn said.

Produce that shoppers can currently find includes lettuce, radishes, microgreens and some late-season vegetables like butternut squash, turmeric and bagged mixes such as arugula, spring mix and kale.

Year round, vendors offer freshly baked breads, pastries, cookies, jams and jellies made with locally grown ingredients and garlic mixes made with locally grown garlic.

Hagedorn named just a few of the Joplin Empire Market mainstays including OakWoods Farm (Granby); Cooks Berry Junction Farm (Liberal); Our Little Piece of Heaven Farm (Pierce City); and Joplin-based honey provider Alchemist Haven.

Empire Market customers can also purchase locally sourced meats. Black Cat Barnyard (Joplin) offers pasture-raised, ethically-raised beef, pork, chicken, lamb and turkey.

“It makes such a difference to be able to go out to someone’s farm and actually see how the animals are treated and see what they’re eating because, of course, you are what your food eats,” Hagedorn said. “And, that’s true not just with meat but also with the farmers who grow produce and sell at our markets. The relationship they have with the soil and the land they’ve cultivated is quite a bit different than those who grow on a much larger scale. Just being able to go out and walk around and see the level of care that’s taken from the time seedlings are started in the greenhouse or warm room to when they are eventually moved to the fields helps give a good sense of how food is actually grown. It doesn’t magically appear in a supermarket.”

Breads and baked goods are other big sellers at the market. There are three Joplin-based bread providers at Joplin Empire Market: Farmhouse Bakery, Redings Mill Bread, and the Bearded Baker. Products typically available include sourdough breads, farmhouse white bread, focaccia, pizza crust, croissants, cinnamon rolls and even toaster pastries.

“Since opening the market in April 2018, we have supported over 100 small businesses,” Hagedorn said. “Shopping local is going to give you a better-tasting food product, you’re cutting the impact on the way we process and ship food across this country, and you’ll be supporting your own neighbors.”