What to know and questions to ask to get the freshest, healthiest fare at the farmers market.
While there are a variety of reasons people choose to be a part-time or full-time locavore (carbon footprint, local community support), eating healthy, whole, unprocessed foods remains at the top of the list. “Knowing who, when, where, why and how your produce is being grown is a great advantage to a safe, healthy and tasteful life; your local certified farmers markets provide that,” says Mario Ishii Hernandez, market chef at the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association. “When you shop for produce at the big grocery store, there is no seasonality and not much is locally grown.”Hernandez weighs in on the need-to-know info when shopping your farmers market.
When it comes to farming, “organic” means that the produce grown by this farm has been certified organic by one of many organizations sanctioned by the state. This involves making sure the ground has been cleared of any non-organic chemicals, any spraying uses only organic materials, and the practices used by the farm comply with state guidelines.
One major misconception of organic is that the farm does not use sprays or chemicals. “Most organic farmers do use sprays and chemicals to reduce attacks of insects or disease, but the chemicals and sprays used are all organic,” Hernandez says.
Pay attention to stickers. If produce has a sticker on it, it can mean one of two things. First, the producer could sell their produce commercially and have stickers made with their own company’s name and information on it.Or if the name on the sticker isn’t the same as the name of the farm, the product was probably not grown by the farmer, but purchased by him to supplement his offerings. It may not be any fresher than what you’d get at the grocery store.
Be picky. Ask the farmer when the produce was picked to determine how fresh it is and how long it will keep. Some fruits and vegetables, such as sweet corn, can start to lose their flavor within a couple days of harvest.
Don’t assume all beef is grass-fed. If a farmer offers grass-fed beef, he or she is most likely going to tout that fact on their signage because they know it’s important to you. “If there isn’t a sign that says it is grass-fed, just ask them,” Hernandez says.
Chat it up. The people who grew what you’re buying are the same people selling the product, and they’re eating it, too. “Farmers can answer all the questions you might have about a certain item, including providing you with hints on how to cook the produce,” Hernandez says.