Farmers’ markets are soaring in popularity. In the last five years, the business of farm to consumer via tents and food trucks has increased 6o percent. There is a growing demand still for more food that is produced locally. Shoppers need to be sure to remember, however, that in order to make sure the food is safe and sustainable, they need to be savvy shoppers. Luckily, most of the markets will provide someone who knows the growing practices intimately and can discuss them with you.
First, you want to make sure the market you are shopping at is a true farmer’s market, meaning that the only vendors represent one producer or co-op in in your area. There are many markets advertised as farmer’s markets but also allow wholesalers in. Also, be sure to ask each farmers what they mean in their advertising- does “organic practices” mean the same thing as “organic”? If they do farm organically, why haven’t they gotten certified by the USDA, which requires a nominal fee from small producers? Also be sure ask what their fertilizer is made out of, and if they do use any sprays what kind they use. Avoid any farmers that admit to using chemical pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers.
Once you have your produce, remember that it likely has not been washed at any point and that several pair of hands have touched the food. You might not want to indulge in your fresh strawberries until you take them home and rinse them. If you find bugs, do not worry, as that is an indicator of healthy soil, but take care to wash them off your food (or eat them, they won’t hurt you!).
Overall, it is important to have fun and be adventurous. The best farmers will be very open about their practices, and encourage you to eat whatever is the best tasting produce for the week. It may be something you haven’t tried before. You farmer will know how to cook, store and enjoy your new food.