Here's another question I receive often at the Market Info Booth: Is everything at the farmers' market local? You know, it's always the most straight forward questions that can be the most difficult to answer. And in this, unfortunately, the answer will vary from market to market.
When you go to a farmers' market, it's easy to assume that everything is local. I mean, that's the point, right? Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. We have a local produce market in town that advertises "Farm Fresh Produce." And it does have farm fresh (what most people would assume means "local") produce. However, that "farm fresh" produce is few and far between. In fact, most of the food is shipped in from all over the country, and world, just like the grocery store (which also has a few local items from time to time).
Thankfully, our farmers' market (completely separate from the local produce market) is all local - with a few exceptions like the coffee isn't grown here, but it's roasted here; or the olive oil that is raised and bottled in Italy, but whose owner lives in our town (the olive orchard is her retirement), brings the oil back home, and is permitted to sell it at our market. But baring those few exceptions, and thanks to a dedicated market board (who screens out any non-locals), any of the fresh fruits and veggies that are sold at our market come from right here in the Brazos Valley. As a result, I can feel good knowing that when I shop at our farmers' market, I'm supporting our local economy.
I wish I could say that all farmers' markets can boast the same roots, but unfortunately, you'll need to ask anytime you discover a new market. Other ways to tell? Get to know your local food system (check out your state's or county's agricultural charts, talk to Master Gardeners, or local farmers). What's in season each month? If you see cucumbers in December, something's fishy. You better ask.
What about you? Does your farmers' market require that the food be produced locally? If not, how do determine what's local or not? Do you rely on favorite vendors and established relationships? Or do you ask around?