This summer my husband and I started a new adventure by becoming a vendor at our local farmer’s market. This is a very large, well attended market with space for 72 vendors. Most Saturdays every space is filled with a few less vendors on Wednesdays. I’ve learned a lot about the farmer’s market by being a vendor. I love the farmer’s market! I would shop the market first before a super market any day for fresh, quality produce, but there are some blanket assumptions I made about the farmer’s market that turned out to be wrong:
All food from the farmers market is local food (false)
The market where we sell requires labeling of all products as either homegrown (grown or produced by the vendor on their property) local (vendor purchased produce from a farmer who produced it within 150 mile radius of our city), regional (vendor purchased from a farmer or auction house within 250 mile radius of our city) or warehouse (vendor purchased produce from a wholesale supplier or farm more than 250 miles from the city) There is actually no limit as to how far away food could be produced and still show up at this farmer’s market as far as I know. If a vendor is willing to make the drive to the market (and there is one vendor who travels 169 miles) they can still label their products as “homegrown” if they produce the meat or produce on land they own. I guess there isn’t a universal definition of “local” I kind of think of local food as something produce close enough to me that I’d be willing or able to drive to the producer’s farm or ranch and pick it up. By their labeling definition, the market considers local food to be food produced within 150 mile radius of the city. Since Regional and Warehouse produce is allowed at this market, not all the food at the market is “local”.
All food sold at the farmer’s market is grown or produced by the vendor selling it (false)
It is a natural assumption that the farmer you buy from at a farmer’s market is the one that produced the food. Okay, sometimes there is a family member or friend who helps do the selling. As I explained in the paragraph above, famers can also sell food they buy from another farmer, auction house, or wholesale producer. On the one hand I want to buy from the person that produced it. They can tell you how it is produced and answer your questions confidently. On the other hand, being able to buy produce and resell it can help a farmer make a living or increase their income. Buying from a third party also allows vendors to bring in seasonal produce earlier. Produce 100 miles to the south can be 2 to 3 weeks ahead of our produce.
Food sold at the farmer’s market is non-GMO (false)
Produce at the farmer’s market enjoys a healthy image and I’d like to think that on the independent farm, food is non-GMO and produced without a lot of chemicals. I would be wrong. One Saturday our booth was next to a vendor who sold heirloom tomatoes, corn and other vegetables. I asked if his corn was non-GMO. He said it was GMO and proceeded to tell me how GMOs are fine and the media has just scared people about GMOs and research shows GMO’s are safe…. He also said that he preferred the GMO corn because he only has to spray it 4 times. Farmers with smaller farms can buy Round-up too. At least he was honest. He still sold out all of his corn. You’ll have to ask if products are non-GMO.
If food sold at the market is organic, it will be labeled “organic” (false)
At our market, we cannot even use the term organic on a sign or in a conversation about our food unless it is USDA certified organic. On the one hand, this avoids confusion. On the other hand, a lot of growers do produce their crops using organic methods but don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of organic certification (and have to pass on the costs to the consumer because farming is a business). Certified Naturally Grown is a lower cost alternative to USDA certification and that is a good label or sign to look for. It’s always good to talk to the seller and ask questions.
I am confident that the produce at the farmer’s market is fresher than anything in the super market. Most farmers harvest the day before the market and rarely carry over produce to the next market. Many of the vendors grow without pesticides. These are great reasons to shop the farmer’s market.
If you want to know about what markets allow and what rules the vendors have to follow, a great place to look is at the vendor application. Most of the larger markets have applications and rules online for anyone to read. Our market restricts some regional and warehouse foods during times when that produce is available locally. Our market also inspects every farm or vendor and posts pictures on their Facebook page and that gives me more confidence to buy.
The bottom line for buying at a farmer’s market is to research the market online if possible before you go and ask a lot of questions before you buy.