I love the farmer’s market and try to go every week. I am lucky enough to live in a city with a winter’s farmers market as well so I can get my fix of fresh vegetables all year long. They are locally grown, often by small acre farmers, and picked at the peak of freshness. For someone who likes to cook, this gives me the very best taste and the very best quality for my meals. The big grocery stores just can’t compete with something that was picked fresh that morning.
Recently, I have noticed a lot of hyperbolic signs touting benefits that play on consumers’ inexperience with agriculture, and it really bothers me, as I am afraid it will create a fear for shoppers where none need exist.
For example, I see a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables marketed as “non-GMO” at the farmer’s market. If you are not familiar, a GMO crop is one that has been genetically modified (usually to protect against insect damage or make sure the crop isn’t jeopardized by out-of-control weeds). The majority of GMO crops are limited to major row crops like soybean, corn (including sweet corn) and cotton, but there are a few varieties of GMO squash to protect against viruses and GMO papaya grown in Hawaii. So sign or not, any lettuce or spinach at the framers market is GMO-free.
Another example is “beyond organic”. The US government established an organic certification process called OMRI to recognize growers who follow the guidelines for organic production. There is nothing “beyond organic”.
I think claims like these take away from the real health and flavor benefits of why I like the market in the first place. When I talk with the farmers at the market about it, most acknowledge that it is a marketing ploy.
When I go to the farmer’s market, I look for produce that still looks like it was just picked—no blemishes, bright colors and no yellowing of leaves, firm skins without breaks on my fruit. I don’t even mind if it still has some soil on it! For example, I am a big fan of Brussels sprouts and other cole crops—seeing bright green Brussels sprouts still on the stalk lets me know I can have some of the best roasted sprouts for dinner that night (I like mine with Italian herbs, olive oil and some dried cranberries tossed in).
I hope that others at the market won’t be put off if the stall doesn’t claim it is non-GMO. I hope that the other shoppers out at the farmer’s market will understand what a red herring such claims can be. Hopefully, we can support local growers providing wholesome food with peak flavor and nutrition and not be sidelined by spurious labels.
Bill Hendrix is Dow AgroSciences' Crop Protection Research and Development Leader for Coastal Crops West, Turf & Ornamental and Urban Pests. He is also an avid foodie.