The Farmers’ Markets are in full swing here in the Carolinas! It seems like almost every town has at least one farmers’ market. Many towns have dozens. This “Farmers’ Market Boom” may be due to the increase in consumer demand for fresh and safe local produce, meats, milk products and even personal care products. But how can you tell if the produce you are buying really is fresh, clean, and local? Carolina Farm Stewardship Association published an article about this. Here is the link. They have some great ideas, and even created a handy list of questions you can download and take with you to the market. Some of my favorites that they listed include: Are these fruits and vegetables organic? How do you handle pests and weeds? What do you feed your chickens, pigs, lamb, goats, or cows? What is your policy on the use of antibiotics or hormones? How much access to the outdoors do your animals have? What’s the best way to stay in contact with you (Facebook, e-mail, website, Instagram)? Aside from buying your products, are there other ways I can support your farm? I LOVE the last two! Below are my thoughts on this topic based on quite a few years of being at the market.
1. Did you grow this? Many farmers markets are “producer only”, which means only the person who grew the product should be selling it. However, more and more market managers are realizing that not all local growers have the time or desire to work a farmers market, so they partner with someone who will be selling at the market. Markets that allow this type of cooperation are being defined as “local only” instead of “producer only”. This means that the product could possibly be grown by a different local grower than the grower at the booth. The benefits of “local only” are the creation of a much greater diversity in the market and the ability to support an entire community of growers. The answer you want to hear is either the farmer you are speaking to grew the produce or else another local grower he personally knows grew it. You don’t want to hear the farmer say he doesn’t know where it came from.
2. Where is the farm located? This allows you to judge if the product is local enough for your criteria. It seems that everyone defines local differently. To me, local means North Carolina, South Carolina, and even parts of Georgia or Virginia. Other people define local as within 100 miles. Some people only want produce from their state. Some people only want produce from their town. There is no right answer. Only you can determine if the farmer’s definition of local matches yours.
3. How do you manage pests? The way the farmer answers this question should give you a good idea of his/her growing practices. If the grower says he/she is pesticide free, your next question should be “How do you grow such beautiful produce with no pesticides?” To see how we manage insects without pesticides on our farm, you can click here. Other possible answers include “We manage pests with only organically approved products”. Your next question should be “what types of organic products do you use?” The reason to ask this question is “organic” doesn’t really mean pesticide free. It means that only organically approved products can be used. Some organically approved products might not be something you want to eat. For instance, copper and sulfur are organically approved products. I don’t want to eat that. Other organically approved products might be more benign, such as beneficial bacteria or plant extracts. You may also have some growers say they are conventional growers. It is important to remember that a non-organic grower doesn’t douse his/her products with chemicals as a rule. Many of these growers live and raise their children on the land they farm, so they have no interest in polluting or spraying dangerous chemicals. Many don’t even have a sprayer. Conventional to them simply means that they are using conventional fertilizer instead of compost. By asking how they manage their pests, you may find out that even your local conventional grower is growing very safe and clean produce.
Now that you know the questions to ask, head to the farmers market! Then eat your veggies,