This title may shock you. How difficult could it be to navigate a farmer’s market, you may ask.
For the next few minutes, please allow me to give you a behind-the-scenes farmer’s market perspective and tips for becoming a well-informed farmer’s market customer.
A little history: 2014 marks my fourteenth year as a vendor at my local farmer’s market. During that time vendor participation has grown from forty to over one-hundred. This explosion has created a carnivalesque atmosphere (sans live animals and trick ponies) by 9:30 AM. Saturday market reputes to attract over five-thousand shoppers every week from April-December.
The former slogan of this decades-old market was, home-baked, home-made, home-grown. In recent years, this motto has vanished from the marketing campaign (driven by city government who manages the market), thus inviting confusion among new customers. Apparently the city has no problem allowing retail storefronts and franchises into the market. This trend began three years ago and dramatically reduced the sales of tenured vendors who comply with the original slogan.
During a recent conversation with the Director, he stated that the farmer’s market is like a car dealership—the more competition the better. Shocked by this mechanical mentality, I scribe this post. Buyers beware. Know the source of your food and vote with your dollars, please.
Seasoned patrons of the market know who the tenured clean (sustainable) farmers are, which vendor bakes from scratch from their home inspected kitchens using whole ingredients, and who clearly designs/fabricates their crafts from molten metals or carded local wool.
Based on repeated customer comments, I deduce that new attendees presume that all the produce, baked goods, and crafts are indeed grown/baked/made by the vendors and their employees who meet a certain criteria. Ahem. Are you ready for a reality check?
This particular farmer’s market is in the heart of an affluent, well-educated, college town of nearly one-hundred-fifty thousand. Whether you live in a small town OR a large urban center, this blog post strives to educate those who rise early on market day seeking fresh, healthy, local foods and support their local economy. Kudos!
Reality: Just yesterday, a new customer approached my booth and asked, did you make this? As a one-woman operation since 2000 (clearly displayed on my sign), if I had a dollar for every time this question was asked, I would be basking in the south of France, not rising at 4 AM every Saturday for thirty weeks every year.
Actually, it is the right question, almost. At least this question opens dialogue and an opportunity for education.
So, are you ready to be a Rock Star farmer’s market shopper? Check list follows:
- If you are looking for produce, ASK the farmer HOW, WHEN, WHERE, and BY WHOM it was grown. This is your only guarantee that you are purchasing the food of your choice and are supporting a local farmer.
- Does the farmer use organic methods? With the high cost of being “certified organic” many farmers utilize organic/clean methods, yet cannot legally post organic signage. Look for “Organic Methods” produce or ASK the farmer.
- IF the produce was sprayed (leafy greens, strawberries, stone fruit, apples), when was the last application?
- When shopping for baked goods or prepared food, ASK the baker/cook about the ingredients. FYI: Last year I asked one food vendor if the chicken in her skewers was locally grown, and she answered “yes” and when I pressed, she followed that response by confessing the chicken was from a local big box store! See what I mean folks???
- ASK and YE SHALL KNOW…
- When is comes to crafts/artisans, make sure to support the vendors who truly craft their wares. Many bead-stringers appear in this kind of venue, and often do not reflect the time-honored craft of glass blowing or metal-smithing. Once again, ASK the origin of materials. Then decide if you want to support that crafter.
- If you tend to eat your way through a farmer’s market, once again, ASK about food origin. Not all food is sourced equally OR sustainably…
- Is the flour unbleached or bleached (bleached flour is often bromated, a type of carcinogen)
- Is the meat locally sourced and raised/pastured/butchered humanely?
- What about those veggies and noodles? Where are they from?
- Market vendors may appear to chat endlessly, yet customers must remember that all market vendors rise long before dawn to arrive at market, set up their booths, and brace for five hours of intense selling. After all, these venues are businesses and customers must remember to limit their visits to brief questions and purchases.
- And finally, please do not ask for discounts or samples. Vendors will offer discounts or specials with signage and will present obvious samples—it is their prerogative to do so. Don’t embarrass yourself and downgrade the arduous efforts of vendors by attempting to bargain hunt. Prices may appear higher than a chain store, yet when last did you grow the perfect heirloom tomato—by the bushel?
— perfection and all locally grown using organic methods and humane treatment of animals
By now you get my point regarding the importance of supporting clean, sustainable, independent growers and bakers who honor their trade and deliver healthy products to farmer’s markets. If not convinced, kindly check out my other blog post regarding food and other topics at http://dianelasauce.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/the-thing-about-documentaries/
I welcome comments and questions. Bon Appetit!
Copyright © 2014 by Diane LaSauce All Rights Reserved