Farmers’ markets vary GREATLY depending on where you live. When I moved to Austin several years ago, the farmers’ markets were probably on the list of top three things I was most excited about (if I’d made that list). I got spoiled while living there. There were markets several days during the week in several different locations with multiple growers we trusted and signage to help us navigate new farmers’ practices: certified organic, sustainable but not certified, etc. Before my husband and I moved to North Texas, we started researching food that was available to us and its quality.
His parents know a family that raises grass-fed cows. We found a store that sold JBG organic that was close by (at the time, we were getting a CSA box from them). There was a farmer’s market downtown on Saturdays. We felt pretty good about our options. After visiting the farmer’s market, I felt a little differently. When I asked vendors if they spray pesticides they weren’t sure of the answer because they were selling produce someone else had grown in another area – sometimes really far south. This wasn’t true for all vendors but it was still disappointing. That’s when I realized I was spoiled rotten by Austin. But, as the saying (sort of) goes, if being spoiled is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I want high quality food options. And sometimes that requires more research.
Here are my tips to starting your own research – a farmers’ market guide:
Get to know the market.
Check out the website for your local farmers’ market. More specifically, check out the application for farmers/growers. What does the market require in order for them to sell there? Does the site talk about the market’s standards? Some markets will visit every farm a certain number of times a year to check on their practices for you! I SO appreciate these markets because it allows me to shop with a baseline of trust already established. Obviously, this is the part that varies. Some markets have very little standards. In that case, and in every case really, check out the next two tips.
Get to know the farm.
Often the farmers’ market website will have a list of vendors as well as links to their sites. Check out the about sections, facebook pages and whatever other resources they provide to help you get to know the farm and what is important to them. If they are growing organically, they will most likely be promoting this on their site. If not, it might not mention anything about their growing methods. Don’t worry, you can ask when you get there. This information will allow you to know who to look for at the markets or whom you might want to ask some questions. For those tips, see below.
Get to know the growers.
Don’t be afraid to ask the vendors questions. If the farm is new to me, I typically start by asking if they use any sprays or pesticides. This usually opens up a dialogue and the farmer will explain their practices. A lot of farms don’t want to pay to get the organic certification, but they still use organic practices. It can be hard, but don’t feel obligated to buy from them after asking. If their methods don’t align with your beliefs, don’t compromise. You can still thank them for the information as you walk away. Additionally, if they tell you they use a particular spray that you aren’t familiar with, wait to research it on your own before buying from them. They might make it sound like the spray they use is no big deal, but you should be the one deciding that. More recently, I have started asking about the varieties of produce they are growing as well. I got this tip while chatting with a homesteader about gardening tips. He said when determining what to grow in my garden, I should ask vendors at the farmers’ markets what specific varieties of different produce they are growing because I will know that it grows well in my area – genius!
I will say that I used to be nervous about talking to the farmers (and still sometimes am – I can be a tad shy), but I am getting better at this (slowly!). It helps me to think about this: I want to buy from a farmer who is passionate and willing to share about his/her growing methods. Whether you determine this information from the market’s site, the vendor’s site or from talking to the grower is up to you. Either way, enjoy it! Going to the farmers’ market is one of my husband and my favorite activities!
Bottom three photos courtesy of Sustainable Food Center .