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Jul 24, 2011 02:41 PM

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.