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The truth about your local farmers' market

I'm talking about a market where farmers sell products in a town center not a single store that sells farmed goods.

I find the percentage of tasty fruit is much lower than that found at a quality supermarket. Too many items seem ripe (they give to the touch, smell good etc...) but are mealy, sour, or bland. Many products are terrific and all are fresh but I find I have to throw out items after bringing them home as I wouldn't want to eat them. Maybe this is the downside of having a smaller farm where you don't have the equipment or personnel to delivery the consistency of a larger farming outfit.

The other truth at least in NJ where I live is the farmers are frequently selling items they did not grow. They are buying them from other farms and reselling them. In some of these cases, I could go to any store and find the items from these farms. In others, the farmers are buying from neighbors and I would have to go there to buy them so I guess this is a bit more acceptible. Still, they didn't grow the products.

The third truth is the farmers also lie or display their merchandise in a deceptive way. They will display plums, peaches, and nectarines where the peaches and nectarines are local and the plums are from California. They will put the plums in one of the green cardboard boxes without any wrapping to make them look local. Sometimes they even peel the plu# stickers off.

Maybe it's just my local market but I suspect at least some of these issues occur elsewhere.

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  1. What you're describing is grounds for a farmer/purveyor being thrown out of the NYC Greenmarket system.

    1. What you're describing (of traders passing off their goods as something they are not) would contravene consumer protection legislation where I am.

      As for whether a trader is growing or buying in might also depend on the type of market. Most are unregulated. I go to one large one which is generally very good but, clearly, there are some traders who have bought in vegetables are they are not seasonal. Of course, they are not making actual claims that they have grown them. A smaller number of farmers markets are certified by the national association and, here, there are guarantees that the traders are genuine producers.

      1. I, too, have figured out the "secrets" of our local farmers market and I was quite taken aback. There is a local produce market that one of my family members works at, it is a small family owned business. The owner drives to the Detroit "eastern market" daily to buy produce to sell in his shop to the general public but mostely wholesale to local restos. The prices of the produce are steeply discounted because they are not the best looking of the crop (ie: squared oranges, greenish lemons, bruised apples ect.) It's the kind of place you go the day you want to prepare something because it will not keep even for a night, in most cases. Every Friday morning, without fail, a parade of cargo vans show up and load up for the weekend "farmers market." They buy the produce, most of which is from chile, Gautemala, and Mexico, remove the plu stickers/rubber bands/ packaging and RESELL these items at the farmers market, passing it off as "homegrown" for a fairly large up-charge and profit. There are only a handful of actual farmers who sell at the market, but the majority of stands are the produce bought from the store.

        1. I think it depends on where you live and who manages your local farmer's markets. I happen to live in the U.S. county with the highest number of indenpendent farms and over 40 farmers markets every week. The best of the markets has an vibrant mix of farmers, prepared local artisan food items, prepared food for immediate consumption and vendors offering produce from assorted farmers and occassionally from the L.A. produce mart. Our most successful market manager has specific criteria for her vendors, but also understands it's a business and for her to be successful her vendors have to be honest, reliable and competent with no intent to defraud or otherwise pull the wool over the consumers eyes.

          I, personally, have not experience fruit from our local farmers markets as you describe, but I have thought some vendors were over priced for what you got. I've had some of the best peaches, cherries and blueberries from one of our local markets, though none of which are really grown locally (okay, we do grow some peaches) and the vendor is clearly selling a product that has been purchased elsewhere. Our "real deal" farmers do not attend every market and they don't always offer the widest array of items. Sometimes the farmer is there, sometimes it's one of his or her kids and they're more than willing to talk to you about their products. I think most of the people in my community who frequent farmers markets, over time, develop relationships with the vendors they like and who have provided them with consistently good produce.

          I don't think you can paint all farmers markets with one generalized brush stroke.

          1. Only the first one (not tasty stuff) bothers me. The others, not so much. I'm a consumer. I go to a farmer's market in search of good products I can't find at a supermarket, higher quality items or items at a better price. The items' origin isn't a factor. Heck, if someone at my local market wants to go into NYC and pick up some game meat to sell back here, I'm all for that. Recently, a stand at a farmer's market had tomatoes. They weren't very shy about where they came from, as they were still in their original boxes (from Florida). If they have a relationship down there and can get them at a discount and then sell them up here, more power to them. After all, as a consumer, shouldn't my main concern be about getting good tomatoes?

            This post reminded me of a recent article about (not) saving the world:

            2 Replies
            1. re: ediblover

              Your argument is nonsensical. Tomatoes can be grown anywhere. Why buy them from Florida? If you don't want to grow them yourself, buy and resell from another local, for Pete's sake. If you care about taste, a tomato picked within a few days that has traveled very little will taste better than one picked 2 weeks ago, shipped and artificially ripened. It's not about saving the world, it's about supporting local business and eating the best produce that is as close to the tree/vine/shrub/earth it came from as possible. Usually that happens to also be good for the planet.

              This practice offends me almost as much as seeing pink tomatoes in the supermarket - inexcusable at the height of tomato season.

              1. re: LisaPA

                Uh... Argument? All the tomatoes were in their original shipping containers, which were clearly marked as originating from Florida. There is no argument. It's a witness statement. As for taste, I never said I purchased them, because I knew they wouldn't be all that good.

                You want to support local business? Well, the vendors were local. You want to go to the "good planet" thing? Okay. Top this: I don't drive to the local markets; I bike or walk the miles there. I also bring my own bags. Am I doing anything meaningful for the planet? NO. I'm not going to fool myself into believing that I'm doing anything of the sort - The only reason I go is for good food I'd have trouble getting elsewhere or at better prices. I also don't care about buying greenhouse produce or ones shipped in from overseas during winter. Like I said, I'm a consumer that cares about getting good products; everything else is secondary. There are plenty of REAL good deeds that one can do for both the environment and community. Going to the farmer's market ain't one of them.

            2. In the summer I buy 95% of our produce at the local tightly regulated farmers market, where everything has to be grown within 100 miles. The market manager knows all of the vendors, visits their farms, and investigates any complaints of possible fraud. I regularly buy from the same producers, and have frequently visited their farms. I have not encountered any lying or cheating, and such would not be tolerated -- people would simply stop buying from frauds.

              As to quality, maybe you ARE purchasing re-purposed goods. Fresh, local produce beats the trucked in stuff hands down. We are in the middle of local peach season and the beginning of the tomato harvest; sweet corn is near its peak; supermarket produce simply can't hold a torch to these.

              1. What a misleading title (at best)! You can call it "the truth about MY local farmer's market" - but be careful of engendering lawsuits, of course. Nothing that you claim applies AT ALL to MY local farmers' markets.

                4 Replies
                1. re: lifeasbinge


                  thank you! most farmer's markets have stringently controlled guidelines for their local farms. if you don't like the rules at your local market, find one with rules you like-- but don't assume farmer's markets across the whole nation are filled with charlatans who wear dirt under their fingernails just to make a fashion statement. there are *lots* of family owned farms and farmer's markets in my own area, and the farmers and market growers work their butts off trying to make a living and keep their land. their products are beautiful, delicious, fresh and usually worthy of premium prices which they may or may not even ask for.

                  know your farmer-- ask her/him questions, if you don't like the answers, move on. if you buy and are uninformed, as with anything else, you only have yourself to blame.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I agree. You cannot say this about all Farmers' Markets. My local one is strictly regulated as to where everything comes from and whether or not it's organic. I always pick my own produce rather than letting the clerk pick it and I have rarely been disappointed since these same people come back week after week and if they were selling bad produce they wouldn't last. I love being able to buy tomatoes that are really ripe, the same for peaches and nectarines. Of course, with stone fruit there is a thin line between ripe and rotten so I have to keep an eye on what I've purchased and make sure I eat it in time. Sure, I've had some fruit that wasn't the tastiest, but far less than I have had from the supermarket.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Not everyone has several markets to choose from, you know. And I don't see how you can claim "most" any more than the OP can claim "all". You're doing the same thing in reverse, claiming to know that most farmers are not reselling cheap wholesale produce. You can't know that unless you've been to hundreds of markets.

                      I've seen a local Amish farmer selling bananas - I live in Pennsylvania. I have no objection to that in and of itself, but it's certainly not something grown on his farm. He also resells stuff from other producers in his area. Not every market is as tightly regulated and controlled as the ones in your area apparently are.

                    2. re: lifeasbinge

                      Thank you lifesabinge!

                      The first is strictly opinion, anyway, as taste is subjective. Much of what the OP said about the quality of farmers market produce I would often say about the quality of supermarket produce.

                      Our market has rules on farmers selling their own produce. In reality, I suspect that rule gets broken on occasion by a very small number of farmers, but they try to regulate it well (with one part time staffer), and I simply keep to the farmers I know and trust.

                      As for misleading displays, I don't see that at our farmers market, but again, I'd guess you could find it at supermarkets.

                    3. "Maybe it's just my local market but I suspect at least some of these issues occur elsewhere."

                      Well, that's not the title of your thread, is it? And it's a long, LONG way between "suspecting these issues occur elsewhere" and telling ME the truth about MY farmers' market.
                      I'm pretty close to reporting this.

                      1. we have several local farmers' markets and each has different rules. i have dealt with many of the farmers for 5, 10 or even 20 years. on the rare occasion I have found something not to be good I have gone back the next week and been more than adequately satisfied.
                        I am sorry your local market may be sub par but in general the food found at farmers markets in Western MA where I live is superb and buying it from the people who grew it is a pleasure as well as a contribution to our local economy and a way to keep land in farms and not McMansions.

                        1. This is definitely the case with many of the farmers markets around me. There is definitely a mix of "real farmers" and "buy wholesale and repackage" vendors.

                          I have no real stats but I wouldn't be surprised if the "real farmers market" markets are in the minority nationwide.

                          I almost feel that people need to put their location on these posts if we want to get into an argument over the accuracy of the OP's title. (Columbus Ohio here)

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: thimes

                            Okay. I'm in Bloomington, Indiana. and no one is re-selling someone else's produce at our market. The vendors police themselves, the market manager keeps a sharp eye out, and the buyers who care ask sharp questions.

                              1. re: thimes

                                I'm in Northern Virginia. I had made the same complaint on another thread earlier this month about the farmers markets where I go. I learned from the responses from other posters in my area that there are jurisdictions close by (counties) where the things I was complaining about simply aren't allowed. I'm a happy farmers market camper now.

                                Point is, where are you talking about, OP?

                                1. re: DPGood

                                  I used to go to farmers markets in Northern Virginia, but I have to admit that the prices are so much higher now that I am less likely to do so. I like to buy local, but it just isn't as convenient and I hate to admit it, but convenience makes a big difference. I still go by the Courthouse farmers market but it feels like I am getting gouged on prices. I don't see farms reselling produce, but the prices just don't seem to be worth it.

                                  1. re: Ziv

                                    I find this to be the case, too, in NoVa. Surprisingly a dozen eggs from a local vendor was $5. I can buy local eggs (as close as that vendor) that are certified humane from Whole Foods for less than $3.50. The farmers themselves are selling it but I feel like I pay a premium to buy from them directly.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      Me, too. I moved to Arlington last year, and was excited to try out the farmer's market...until I realized that the prices where much higher than Whole Foods, and that the produce (at least, the produce I purchased) appeared to be of a lower quality. If I can buy local produce from Whole Foods, cheaper, that tastes better, why would I go to the farmer's market? The people running it weren't even friendly... ugh. It really turned me off from farmers markets, unfortunately!

                                      1. re: anakalia

                                        Just wanted to add that I don't paint all farmer's markets with the same brush - I'm currently living in Wisconsin for the summer, and the Green Bay and Madison markets are both really great, with exceptionally fresh, and relatively inexpensive, produce!

                              2. In California is pretty easy to find a reliable farmers' market:


                                10 Replies
                                1. re: pamf

                                  And I find the prices to be great for the freshness and size of what I get.

                                  1. re: escondido123

                                    I'm in San Diego as well, but I tend to think our prices are on the high side despite excellent quality and diversity of product. I do, however, most frequently shop at the Little Italy farmers market which I think tends to be more expensive to begin with.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      $1 a pound for small, organic zucchini, $3.50 for ripe/flavorful heirloom tomatoes, $2 a pound for fresh green beans--for the freshness and taste I consider these prices quite reasonable. No?

                                      1. re: escondido123

                                        $12 for 3 small baskets of berries, $3.50/lb for spinach, $5/lb for peaches, $10 for 4 oz almonds.

                                        Depends on which market you shop and what you buy, Little Italy is not cheap and the vendors know people will pay. You've got better pricing for sure

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Sounds like Escondido prices might be half of Little Italy--but then I'd never spring for almonds at that price ;)

                                          1. re: escondido123

                                            Santee on Wednesday is a Certified Farmers Market, has fewer farmers, a handful of snack/meal vendors (cupcakes, tamales, hummus, olive oil, jams), one flower seller and about ten craft booths. I think only one certified organic farmer sells there. There has been a new booth selling fresh killed/humanely raised chickens in the last month.

                                            I bought strawberries 3 for $6, blueberries for $1.50, baby squash and squash blossoms for $5/lb two weeks ago. Heirloom tomatoes were $3/lb and Italian plum tomatoes were $1.75/lb.

                                            Not all the Farmers Markets in San Diego are Certified. Little Italy is not; It is more of an "event". http://www.sdfarmbureau.org/BuyLocal/...

                                            1. re: Cathy

                                              Cathy, that's true, it is an event :-). It's definitely a "seen and be seen" market. But that said, all the top local farmers are there whether the market is certified or not and the market products are varied and very, very good, they're just not inexpensive.

                                              Frankly, it's gotten to be too much of a "scene" for me and increasingly hard to navigate and actually shop given everyone packed into those few short blocks. I hear North Park is really developing quite nicely and is much less hectic.

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                It is, DD, both a 'scene' and expensive. The managers charge for securing a space at each market. I do think quite a few 'farmers' aren't farmers at all (look at the crates holding produce or tossed behind or under a display table then drive over to Specialty Produce).

                                                The North Park Market and City Heights (first one that accepted EBT cards) are very interesting and varied enough for me. Lakeside was really good, but people were looking for bargains and it has closed. Ramona was getting that way and they moved closer to the main road and now it seems the only patrons are people driving through town thinking it is 'quaint' to see a Farmers Market on the weekend drive.

                                                1. re: Cathy

                                                  Actually, there are more actual growers at LI than you realize. I've managed to weed out the ones that are reselling. I do the SP farmers market bag about as much as I do LI and for $20 it's the best deal in town.

                                                  Very familiar with City Heights through my work on the Slow Food Urban San Diego board. It a very cool market directed at the lower income neighborhood. What's really cool about City Heights is that there are urban growing projects going on in plots all over the community. Most of the farmers are refugees or recent immigrants settling into life in the U.S. They're being allowed and encouraged to plant and maintain empty lots as gardens to grow things that were native to their original country of origin. While most of the vegetables and such are used to sustain their families, produce from those urban garden plots does, not infrequently, end up at the CH farmers market. The other thing I really appreciate about that market are the tremendous outreach efforts they've done in teaching low income women and families how to cook more healthily so they don't have to rely on inexpensive convenience or fast foods.

                                                  As I know you know, we are truly blessed here in SD with a strong and dynamic farmers market network. From the marquee markets in Little Italy and Hillcrest to the smaller neighborhood markets like City Heights and North Park, finding responsibly grown and harvested produce is getting easier and there is something for everyone somewhere in the city.

                                      2. re: DiningDiva

                                        Also in S.D. county. I grow my own zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, corn, peaches, apples, oranges, lemons, eggplant, and a variety of herbs. Seeds cost pennies, seedlings maybe $3. Cheaper and fresher than even the farmer's market, and I'm the farmer, so I know it's fresh, not pesticided, and my dirt is under my nails. And this is just in a tiny backyard space.

                                  2. Alll I can add is that my local Point Richmond farmer's market is 2X the cost at Safeway. It's even more expensive than Whole Foods. And variety? Forget it.

                                    1. Even here in urban Milwaukee I feel pretty darn confident that the products I'm buying at the markets I go to are locally grown by the people selling them to me. My confidence comes from the fact that the products displayed each week are seasonal and change throughout the summer and fall depending on what's ripe and ready for harvest. Heck, half the time the potatoes I buy still have dirt on them. I highly doubt any of the vendors are buying veg from the Pick N Save across the street and then rolling it around in dirt to pass it off as their own.

                                      One thing I love about my local FM is the fact that most stands have signs with the name/website/phone number of the farm where they came from. Seeing as most farmers are just trying to make a living, I'm sure they would be more than happy to let you visit their farm so you can confirm their source and feel comfortable buying their products.

                                      1. The markets where I live are arranged slightly differently. They are called traditional markets, and while most of the food sold is locally produced, the vendors openly sell imported stuff. From a business perpective this is important, as a lot of people are doing their main grocery shopping there, and having to do a separate trip to another store to pick up specific non local items (like apples or salmon) would pull away customers.

                                        A big difference is that these aren't trendy, newly established markets. Trendy and new is shopping at Costco. Going to the traditional market (open mornings only, closed Mondays) is extremely traditional, in the hanging pig faces, chickens killed on site, giant piles of dried shrimp sense.

                                        However, the main reason I shop there is because the meat and produce are generally better quality *and* cheaper than the grocery store. You get to know which vendors are best, and when they get to recognize you they'll throw freebies into your bag occasionally (we got a free fish with our shrimp and squid yesterday). Oddly enough, there is actually a range of produce that's readily available in the markets but not in the grocery store, like lotus roots, chayote squash leaves, freshly made tofu products, and dumpling wrappers.

                                        1. I'm the OP and I wasn't trying to implicate all farmers markets. Maybe I should not have used the word "your" in the title and said "my" or something similar instead. I honestly didn't expect the reaction this has gotten. I have been to many markets where I don't think these issues are taking place. I love the Santa Monica, CA markets, Ferry Terminal in S.F., Union Square in New York etc.... I go to a market in Scotch Plains, NJ where this stuff happens. I've seen it at other area markets too. I did make it clear in the actual post that I wasn't trying to use a broad brush to tarnish these markets. I love them but am frustrated at some of what I see.

                                          4 Replies
                                            1. re: spike74

                                              thank you for coming bacl to clarify Spike! i will now dial down my outrage 500%.

                                              that sux about your local market. i think many markets are well-run with controlled standards on "local"-- but there is probably a % where it's just an open market. maybe if you shopped around?

                                              1. re: spike74

                                                Thank you very much for the clarification. I've got no problem at all with specific examples of problems with farmers' markets. I happen to be in Maine and fortunate in a variety of fine markets.

                                                1. re: lifeasbinge

                                                  Likewise, in midcoast Maine where I am, there are NO imported goods at ANY of the local markets (I have 4 easily accessible from my house). Everything is locally grown- and in the cases where it's more expensive than the store, it's simply because it's a better, and often organic, product.

                                                  It seems that the reselling of goods may be more common than I thought (reading these posts), which makes me pretty sad- that's not at all what I expect form farmer's markets.

                                              2. At my local market, all farmers must sell their own goods and everything must be produce within 50 miles of the market. Reselling and "importing" from outside the 50 mile radius will get farmers kicked out pretty quickly. The market has been around for decades, and the board of directors (all vendors, elected by other vendors) are very good at self policing.

                                                With regard to quality of produce, sure there are duds sometimes, but any farmer that consistently sells poor quality produce is going to see a sharp decline in sales. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.

                                                1. I used to work for a large agricultural company and traveled to terminal markets where it sold its produce to people who then turned around and sold it at farmers markets. It was the same stuff you'd buy in a grocery store. As with anything else you'd buy, it pays to know your source, or at least your farmers markets. I really miss the farmers markets I went when we lived in California. I'd go twice a week, know the vendors and found the best products. Everyone who loves their farmers markets should appreciate how lucky they are--I didn't at the time.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    It's basically up to the organizers of the Market to police the vendors and set up criteria for having a booth at the market.

                                                    The Union Square Market in New York, one of the oldest and largest markets, has very strict rules regarding the distance allowed for the crops to travel to the market as well as the time elapsed between picking and selling. I believe the criteria are relaxed a bit in the winter...

                                                  2. You just have to go to the right market. Example: In Asheville, NC there are two farmer's markets (actually there are more, but I'll discuss the 2 biggest ones). First you have the WNC farmer's market that's been by the interstate as long as I can recall. It has mainly produce from farms from whereever. Florida mostly I think. I would go there to maybe get pecans by the bushel and a better price than buying them in the supermarket. Occaisionally there would be a one-day herb sale or other local events. There are no rules. http://www.ncagr.gov/markets/faciliti...

                                                    On the other hand, there is the Asheville City Market, which is a congolmeration of small producers that sell the stuff they grow within 60 miles. It's mostly gorgeous stuff, mostly organic.
                                                    The only problem is, some of it is HIDEOUSLY overpriced. There is a bit of celebrity preening over the current enthrallment with chic farmers. I've learned not to be shy about asking how much things are, lest I get a $4 head of broccoli the size of my fist or a $4 rice cake w/ local honey drizzled on it. http://www.asapconnections.org/cityma...

                                                    It shouldn't be too hard to find out what the rules are at your local market by googling them.

                                                    And a word produce that's been "trucked in". Although I generally turn my nose up as well, you can't write off everything that's not sold by the farmer. Take for instance my uncles, who are in their late 60's and still grow peaches on the small farm that my grandfather started in the 40's. This was a sideline for them all their lives, because as we all know, it's hard to make a living farming. They aren't going to be selling these peaches out of their backyard, or sitting around at a market all day on the weekend. So they have the peaches picked, and the baskets get loaded up on other people's trucks and sent to the major markets in Atlanta (2-3 hours away). They are fantastic peaches, and the people who buy them are getting peaches that were on the tree a few days ago. NOTHING like grocery store peaches.

                                                    1. It is interesting to re-read this thread. Initially people were so upset about the broad sweeping claim about farmers markets.

                                                      But after re-reading all these posts it seems like the broad sweeping claim may be more accurate. If you have to "research" and "find" the good farmers' markets then that implies that the large number of farmers' markets aren't great.

                                                      We of course have a few farm stands that I love in the area but I don't find the numerous "farmers' markets" to be great. Which I've always found amazing since I am now in Ohio and surrounded by farms!

                                                      1. This (selling some out-of-state fruit) happens at my Bergen County, NJ farmers' market, but the out-of-state stuff is labeled, and considering that there is no supermarket in my town I am just grateful they come and sell there. I buy mostly the local stuff in any case, and have enjoyed everything I've got from them.

                                                        1. I am in Pennsylvania and within a 30 minute drive, I can visit 4 farmer's markets. Two charge for vendor space and as far as I know, management does not regulate merchandise in any way. The other two are free to the vendors, it is very much a show up and sell situation on a dedicated section of main streets.

                                                          I know at the pay-for-space markets that reselling is very common, particularly among the Mennonite and Amish vendors. I regularly see a certain family at a chain grocery store buying large quantities of produce and at Aldis buying bags of peppers and apples for resale at the market. (I have asked straight out "didn't I see you at Aldi's this morning buying these peppers and the young lady was honest about it.)

                                                          At the street market, the vendors are mostly small farmers and they will educate as long as you are willing to stand there about their products. I like visiting these particular markets because I always come away with products I wouldn't have tried on my own.