Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Did that "Farmer" Grow the Food He's Selling?

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this week about farmers vs. resellers, who purchase cheap produce at auction (photo above of produce at an auction) and sell it at a farmers' market as if they grew it themselves and often at a price that undercuts the farmers who are selling what they produce.

How can you tell if the farmer you're buying from actually grew what he's selling you?  Here are some things to consider:

  • If he grew them himself, the farmer will know that the cucumbers are Greensleeves versus Raiders.  He'll be able to tell you exactly why he chose that variety and how it did for him this year.  If he can't, I'd wager he didn't grow it. 
  • Look at the produce.  Are the potatoes as clean as they are at Kroger's?  Are the onions all the same size?  Do the ends of the asparagus or the silk on the corn look dried out?  None of these are good signs.  Produce at a farmers' market should look both fresher and less perfect -- not as clean, less consistently sized, less photogenic -- than the stuff at the grocery. 
  • Consider the variety versus quantity in her stand.  If a farmer has tomatoes and peppers and corn and beans and cucumbers and cabbage and peas and cauliflower and melons and zucchini and turnips and lettuce and onions and herbs and all in large quantities, I'm suspicious. Very few farms can produce large quantities of lots of different produce all at the same time. 
  • Does he have lots of strawberries while other farmers are saying they won't have strawberries for a couple more weeks because of all the rain?  It's not a sure sign -- different varieties ripen at different times, and two farms that vend at the same farmers' market may be dozens or even more than a hundred miles apart and so be getting different weather and have different seasons.  But it's worth asking about. 
  • Ask the Market Manager if they have a rule about reselling -- and if so, how they check and whether they enforce it.  If the market doesn't have such a rule, ask why -- and consider finding a different market if what you really want is to buy fresh, seasonal produce direct from the grower.  
Anyone have some other things to consider?


Anonymous said...

I think a great question is, did you grow this? Not is this home grown?

Why do you have this available now when no one else does?

For grass fed meats, How long have you owned this beef/hog/etc.?

We appreciate when patrons ask us questions.

Jennifer said...

Definitely look for out of season items. Even the most local of markets seem to have someone who is tempted to sell "the whole salad" or items that are particularly popular regardless -- so, cantaloupe during strawberry season, tomatoes along with the rhubarb.