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? I’ll give you three great questions to ask your fruit and vegetable farmer. A farmer’s answers to these questions will let you know whether or not the produce fits your criteria.
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 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!