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Every Question You Need To Ask Before Buying From Farmer’s Market Vendors

Honey anyone? Or maybe some fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, or specialty goods? No matter your tastes, your local farmer’s market offers a cornucopia of foods. Shopping them outside under a warm sun is a time-honored tradition, deeply rooted in American culture. The name implies a direct chain between grower and consumer. But there can be a disconnect between what you think you’re buying and what you’re actually getting.

One of the biggest misconceptions is believing products offered for sale are locally grown. It’s not always the case. Most farmer’s markets don’t require it. An easy giveaway is finding exotic foods or foods that aren’t in season where you live. If you are interested in fresh produce, chances are you know what is grown in your region of the country and when it is ripe. If what you see in the stalls differs, then it is coming from somewhere else — sometimes imported from another country! Or being grown in a greenhouse which is usually more expensive.

Another common misassumption is expecting farmer’s market food to be healthier just because of its sourcing. People may mistake natural as being organic. Labeling something organic is an actual designation that meets USDA standards and can be verified. If that’s what you’re in the market for, literally, look for the terms ‘certified organic’ or ‘fair trade.’ Calling something ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ is a marketing strategy used to charge a premium price.

Many people visit their local community markets in part to help support small farms and businesses. But vendors may be resellers who buy product in bulk from a distributor and may often send trucks to multiple markets across the region or even state. The resellers will sometimes staff their stalls with employees who don’t know anything about the food, how it was grown (or raised if it is meat or poultry) or where it came from. That’s a long shot from chatting up a farmer and learning about the family farm. It may be that running a grow operation takes up too much time, so farmers are forced to rely on resellers to get their food to market. That is different than someone who is buying from a food distributor. As long as there is transparency, you can decided whether it’s worth your money.

You should also take a longer look at the prepared foods (the salsas, guacamoles, specialty deserts, etc.). Made by mom-and-pops, with fresh ingredients. With a small-batch operation, there is typically no oversight of the kitchen, food prep or health inspections. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try, but talk to the vendor and ask questions to get a feel about their practices and gauge your comfort level.

There are a lot of benefits to shopping at a farmer’s market. Ideally you are getting access to fresh food and helping sustain the local agricultural community. But one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. So here’s some questions you might want to ask.

• Does the market/vendor of interest sell local product? This typically means coming from a 50-100 mile radius at most.

• Is this an organic market/vendor? If so, ask to see the certification details if it is not posted.

• Does the market/vendor allow resellers? You have a right to know because you could be shopping the same or similar food quality you would get from your local grocery store. But at a higher price and no quality controls.

If it’s a home grown experience you’re looking for, your local farmer’s market offers a unique opportunity to get a real taste of your community’s flavor. But it’s always good to be prepared and keep quality control at top of mind.

What do you think?

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