Three Questions to Ask at a Farmer’s Market
Going to the local farmer’s market is a fun adventure for the entire family. I can remember going to the local market with my mom and grandma at various canning times throughout the year to buy peaches, cherries and other produce. We grew most of our own vegetables but we left fruit to the professionals! Now-a-days, the trend to buy local motives people who live in cities to travel to the suburbs. This also creates a market for vendors to set up shop that may not actually be local, just appears to be. So, here are key questions to ask when you are at the farmer’s market.
Where is your farm located?
Farmers LOVE to talk about their farms and farming operations (beware, you may have to pull up a chair). They will be able to tell you how big their farm is, how long they have been farming, how their family gets involved and all the things they produce.
Farmers are your best source for information. If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation. You can also ask for tips on producing vegetables or fruit in your own backyard. This is a far superior resource than Google!
Did you grow or raise this?
If your goal of purchasing local is to buy something that was produced in the area, then this is a key question. Shopping within the 100km radius means that food wasn’t moved more than 100km and is more environmentally friendly due to reduced carbon emissions.
Someone who farms in the area and sells produce at the farmer’s market will keep you within this 100km window. However, not all farmer’s market shoppers adhere to the 100km radius. Some just want to support the local farmers and purchase fresh produce. The vendor may also work with another farm nearby. Nothing wrong here, you are now supporting two local farms and leaving a smaller carbon footprint because only one farm vehicle is driving to the market.
Did you use pesticides or antibiotics when needed?
Before answering this question, we need to set a couple myths straight. First that organic farming doesn’t use pesticides. This is false, organic farming is a farming practice that seeks to utilize ‘naturally occurring’ pesticides. There is a long list of pesticides that are approved for organic use. So, there will be chemical residue on organic produce similar to what is on conventionally produced produce, it’s just a different source of chemicals.
Second that the use of antibiotics in livestock production is bad. Farmers keep an eye on their animals and treat them only if they are sick. Sick animals are monitored for a period of time after the antibiotic dose. There are strict government guidelines to ensure we do not consume antibiotics in our meat. With this question, you are asking the farmer if he only applies chemicals or uses antibiotics when necessary to prevent crop loss or disease.
I think the key and fun part of shopping at the local farmer’s market is developing relationships with the vendors. Once that relationship is developed, you have a friend that can be a reliable source for unknown produce or new ways to prepare food. Local farmers are also great sources for recipes that often have been passed down for generations. Surprise the family back home!
Holly Loucas is a 44yr old mother of 2 who has spent the last 20+ years doing research developing and using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and molecular biology at the University of Guelph and University of Florida. She is now employed as a Customer Agronomist with Dow Seeds, which is a seed company that is owned by Dow AgroSciences. She is a dedicated supporter of the safety of GMO crops.