Friday, May 29, 2009

Is everything at the farmers' market local?

In past weeks, we've been uncovering the mysteries of the local farmers' market. We've asked: "Is the Farmers' Market Safe?" and we've debated affordability in "Is the Farmers' Market More Expensive."

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?


ttammylynn said...

My husband asked one of the Scamardo's who own/run the Farm Patch about local produce about five years back. He said that our Texas weather makes it difficult to consistently produce for a low (or even consistent)price--this is why the Farm Patch finds all these other sources. I think the overall idea is that the seasons produce limited varieties here. If the Farm Patch sold only greens and broccoli for the winter, it would not be as large and diverse as it is. Besides, if you look at the zone map, California has zones and coastline all over the place--giving it the ability to grow more variety in food. We live in a hot zone 8 which is prone to droughts, near floods, and freezes, too.
As for our Farmer's Market--everything is completely local on the surface...but when you delve deeper, much of that changes. Like the coffee and olive oil, the baked goods, the salsas, jellies, some of the flours and the "prepared foods" often contain no local foods at all. I think the premise is that the foods were somehow prepared locally(usually at someone's home--even though technically by Texas law they should have been prepared in a commercial kitchen). In this sense, the market is kindda like a food and craft flea market. The Farmer's Market board does have insurance to protect them from liability on the fruits and vegetables that are sold at the market(think about recent salmonella or e-coli in the news--scary thought).
Really, there are many questions you can ask--all of our vendors are open and honest about their methods. I personally have never had any problems with anything I have purchased from the market, but I really would like to see it move to a better facility because it could do so much better if it were easier to get to/ better located. Although there are satellite markets, most regular customers are prone to shop at the major events (Saturday, some Wednesday) for selection and vendor choice.

Karen said...

Oh, that's one of my pet peeves! None of the markets here in the Des Moines, IA, area require that all produce be locally grown. Grrr! After a while, you learn who to avoid and who you can trust, but not everyone is a savvy shopper, you know? It also helps to know what is in season, etc.

Kildare Girl said...

Both of the farmers markets near me (Norman and Moore, OK) require the sellers to post where their produce/products come from - whether it is their own farms or elsewhere. Sadly though, much of the produce is not from Oklahoma. I committed myself a long time ago to just buying produce grown locally in Oklahoma. I haven't actually counted the difference between the two types of vendors but I think I will do it this Saturday.

What frustrates me the most is people come to the farmers market only to buy produce they could have bought at the local grocery store for less. It's almost like getting scammed. Especially since there is nothing to require the sellers to post about the methods used in growing the produce (my suspicion is most in not organic).People think they are doing something good - buying local, buying organic, supporting local farmers... but really they aren't.

It also means that people who are trying to make the transition from grocery to farmers market don't get the experience of knowing what farm fresh really tastes like, or making friendships with local farmers, or learning about seasonality and the best time for certain goods. I've talked to some city leaders about this but it seems that the money these sellers make helps provide a lot of the support for the market. Never mind that you are buying tomatoes in April! :)

Lisa Sharp said...

I'm sure ours is local but it's very small. :(

Holly said...

the farmer's/producer's at the austin, texas farmer's markets are required to be within a 50 mile radius of austin. and they are visited by farmer's market representatives to inspect their operations, before they are allowed to sell there. i don't know if they continue to visit. one of our farmer's markets is very large and there's a waiting list for vendors depending on what they have to sell. heather you should come here one saturday for a field trip. :)

organicneedle said...

Great question. Most of the tables at the markets I have been to around NYC seem to post where they are from. Obviously, local is a relative term for us...but most seem to come from LI, upstate or Jersey. Not sure if they are required to tell or if it is just a sense of pride in their goods. Next time I don't see a sign I will be sure to ask.

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - I understand what Farm Patch is doing (and why they are doing it), but they try to pass themselves off as a farmers' market (even advertised on campus as a farmers' market) and it is HUGELY misleading. That's one of my biggest problems is getting it in people's heads that the farmers' market is not the Farm Patch. It's amazing how many people think that.

Many of our vendors' processed products are not local (though locally processed), but the Burtons buy local eggs and tomatoes for their goods, all the flours are locally ground (and starting in June the wheat berries for wheat flour will all be local). But when you look at the fruits and veggies, they are ALL local.

Karen - Definitely. Before I became a locavore, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between the farmers' market and the produce market. Getting back in touch with the seasons in any particular area is the best way education yourself on local shopping.

Kildare girl - that's a shame. So your "farmers' market' is just a glorified grocery store, is what I'm understanding? With things shipped in from all over?

Lisa - At least when you're at the market, you can ask the vendors. I've asked produce managers at grocery stores and for the most part, they can't tell you where anything is from.

Holly - I've heard REALLY cool things about your market. Is it just the Saturday market? I'd love to come up sometime to check it out. I'm planning a Locavore trip to Richardson Farms in the fall. Maybe I can work it so that we hit both places.

Organic Needle - I like the idea of posting signs. Being transparent is a huge plus.

ttammylynn said...

One of the CSAs I belonged to started running low on goods while I was a member and started buying produce from other sources(not neighboring farms, we're talking Cali and Washington organic stuff, if I remember correctly). It became apparant when some of the boxes were used to hold member shares. In one sense, I was happy to get something in my box while the garden struggled, but, I felt deceived too, because nothing is supposed to be local so much as a share in a CSA with a farm. Vicki would never do that so although she isn't strictly organic, she is local. Now, she has brought cranberries from a bog she visited, and stuff like that, but that was local on her trip and it cancels out by locavore law.Also, she gives her members extra when she has it versus selling it at market or adding new members. I really like her share all philosophy in running her CSA because as a member, it is like having the garden yourself without the work involved. Of course, now that my garden is thriving, I am not sure if I need so much stuff.
No, it isn't right for the Farm Patch to pass itself off as a Farmer's Market but, it would be appropriate to say that they have some local produce(just ask), they do carry some organics, and they tend to have the best selection of produce in the area. Back in the day, the grocery stores had kindda old looking produce so the Farm Patch was quite a necessity for me. From about 1990, I have shopped at Brazos Natural Foods and the Farm Patch on a regular basis...if you find a good thing, you utilize it.
Yes, several of our vendors at the Farmer's Market use/try to use local ingredients--it is a huge blessing that they do(and probably why their products are kick-butt delicious).
Oh, by the way, if I can get my corn crop to term without problems, I'm going to have a huge problem. I have way more corn than can be eaten fresh, so, can you help me figure out if freezing or canning (I can't pressure can on my stove) would be better so that we can do something together and share the bounty I think we are sure to have. It has put up tassles and will soon become "pregnant" with ears of corn. I'm working on what to use to prevent earworms that are extremely common in corn.

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - although it's still local, Vicki does get from others (tomatoes from Tanya, etc) for the CSA boxes. But at least she tells people that.

I shop at the Farm Patch on occasion, as yes, they do have local produce, but most people just assume it's everything because that's the way Farm Patch presents itself. Even the pkgs of beans in the back room say "Farm Patch, Bryan TX" on them. You have to ask where they come from. It turns out they come from Colorado, but the only thing on the package is Bryan TX. It doesn't say it's "packaged" here or anything, just "Bryan, TX." Very misleading.

And big-box groceries have local produce too, just like Farm Patch. That being said, at least Farm Patch is a local company which is why I get fruit there sometimes when I know they are carrying Texas fruits. I just hate that it misleads the public (not actively, but passively).

The corn sounds great. I just canned a bunch today, but am hoping to do much more :)

Captain's Wife - Jennifer said...

Our local farmer's market has a rule that the vendor can only sell what they have personally grown. There was a vote at the last meeting (the first meeting I have ever gone to) about it that would have let a vendor sell purchased produce, but it did not pass.

ilex said...

Eastern Market in Detroit has a lot of vendors that bid at the wholesale auctions to re-sell, and it's obvious to the educated foodie eye; they are the ones with asparagus in October and green seedless grapes year-round. However, market management makes a point to cordon them off, more or less, to their own shed. The showcase shed, Shed 2, is only for nearby Michigan sellers. But the showcase shed isn't just for vegetables- there's a lot of Michigan-made value-added, too.

Heather @ SGF said...

Jennifer - good for them for sticking to their guns. Our market has a similar rule and any exceptions have to be approved by the board.

ilex - That's a cool way of doing it (as long as customers know which is which).