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Not All Farmers Markets Are Created Equal

Posted Sep 21 2011 7:00am
Farmers Market

Most people assume that purchasing from a farmers market automatically means it is more local than purchasing at a grocery store.   Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  Some markets do not limit the source of the produce that farmers bring.  So, Farmer John in NC could pick up produce off a truck returning from Florida and sell it as his own.  A hint?  When your local farmers market in the Eastern US carries bananas and pineapples, you know it isn’t a producer or mileage limited market.  At least in North Carolina, this can be typical, but it doesn’t have to be disheartening to hear –  it just means that it takes a bit of work to find that perfect market.

So, how does one choose a farmers’ market?   As usual, the more you can educate yourself, the better.  There are a few keywords you can look and listen for including:

Typically this means that the person you are purchasing from has produced the product displayed.  That applies to produce, meat, eggs, cheese, breads, crafts, etc.  There may periodically be someone else standing in to sell the wares, but on the whole the farmer or creator is present.  This is a great opportunity to ask questions and educate yourself about each operation and the business choices that individual has made.

For those in Wisconsin, the Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer only market in the country.  For those in the DC area, FreshFarm Market  is another large producer only market option.

Some markets ensure they are local by setting up strict mileage guidelines.  The goods must be from, for example, 100 miles or less from the location of the market.  When applying, a vendor will be asked for an address and the distance will be verified before the vendor is accepted.  Some of these markets are stricter than others.

The Carrboro Farmers Market is well-known in North Carolina and limits its vendors to those located within a 50 mile radius of the market.

Many markets, such as FreshFarm and Carrboro are a mix of both types – they limit their vendors to producers only AND have limitations as to how far away that producer can be.  This ensures you are buying straight from the source and that source is local.

There are many ways to locate a farmers market.  The easiest online searches are through the USDA and Local Harvest .  Keep in mind that just because the summer is winding doesn’t mean the farmers markets will close up shop.  There is quite a bit of lovely fall produce to be had and year-round markets are becoming more common.

The best bet in all of this?  Get to know your farmer or producer.  If you know and trust the people you are purchasing from, the type of market doesn’t make much of a difference.  Ask questions about how they raise or create what they sell.  Is organic important to you?  Ask about it.  Be nosy.  Most vendors are proud of what they do and welcome the chance to discuss it in more detail.

Once you find the producers whose ideals most align with your own, the best thing you can do is celebrate your findsupport them and ensure they can continue to offer their fantastic creations for many years to come.

Do you have a favorite farmers market?

Sources: Smart Money , Charlotte Talks , NBC Los Angeles

Image Credit: Flickr CC – Natalie MaynorAuthenticEccentric

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