Some people can get a little overwhelmed on their first visit to the farmers’ market. I know I sure did the first time. As time went on, I learned what questions to ask and how. I quickly learned to ask open-ended questions. By letting the farmer explain his practices, you can see if they are a fit to what you want to support and buy. Here are the top
ten eleven questions everyone should ask at the farmers’ market:
- Do you have a minute to answer a question? I find this to be important because the markets are usually packed and the famers are trying to serve lots of people all at the same time. Most farmers will be more then happy to answer your questions. You can let them know you are really interested in finding out if they grow/raise their food using organic and/or sustainable practices.
- Hey, what is this? A lot of the time you will find foods that leave you scratching your head wondering what the heck it is! This past summer, there was nice light green/yellow looking ball, about the size of a baseball. I asked. And it was a cucumber, a lemon cucumber to be exact. I love cucumbers and jumped all over them. They were tasty too. You see, you will always find new foods to try! Let your taste buds go on an adventure!
- How do you cook/eat this? When you find new foods or are tired of eating the same way; simply ask your farmer the best way to enjoy it.
- How are your crops grown? This is so important! You want to avoid fruits and veggies that were sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and/or fungicides. The best line I got was “The apples were only sprayed at the beginning.” My thought was, it doesn't matter when thy were sprayed, they were still sprayed.
- Where were they grown? You are at the market to take advantage of buying locally grown products. However, sometimes products aren't really that local. So ask, just to be safe. Some farmers markets, actually only allow venders that live a certain radius from the market; that way you always know the products are local.
- How long ago was it harvested? You are looking for crops that have been harvested the day before or the morning of. The freshers the better.
- What type of fertilizer do you use? If they use the word nitrogen, I personally would look for another vender. This is a synthetic fertilizer that runs into our water supply, and in general it is not good for the environment or your health.
- How are your animals (cows, pigs, chickens etc.) raised? For meat eaters, knowing how an animal is raised is so important. You want to know if the animals are given access to the outdoors (If so, how much?); If they are confined; if they are injected with antibiotics, or hormones to promote the growth of the animals on your farm. Antibiotics are good for them when they are sick, but not all the time and not in their feed.
- What are the ingredients in your product? At the market, there is not only produce, dairy and meat products but also homemade goods, jams, breads, etc. I find it important to ask what their ingredients are. Just because it was homemade doesn't make it organic or sustainably made.
- Do you welcome people to visit your farm? I find it fun to visit the farm that is week after week supplying you with fresh fruits and veggies, beef, eggs etc. I have had the opportunity to visit a few farms and it is so worth it.
- What is your name? It is so fun to get to know your farmer. I had the great privilege of meeting some great people at the farmers market, especially Farmer Dave and Holly in Williamsport, PA! We miss you!
Just keep in mind that many growers choose to grow using organic/sustainable methods, but refuse to pay the high cost involved in being certified organic. You will have to make your own judgement call and put your trust in your local famers. Many people go to the farmers market believing because it's at the market, it must have been grown locally and grown organically . That is surely not always the case- buyer beware.
I also feel it is important to be polite and respectful to the farmers. If you get an answer you don’t like or agree with, simply say something like, “Thanks for your time. I am going to continue to look around the market and will come back if I need anything.” It's not a good idea to be rude to them for not meeting your standards.
Always ask with a smile-nobody likes a frowner!
So ask away, and you will see how friendly farmers can be!