When it comes to shopping at the local farmers market, you may consider yourself a seasoned shopper. You know how to make the most of the farmers market. You could create a list of the top tips for shopping at the summer farmers market. Heck, you even know what to splurge on at the farmers market, but do you know what questions you should ask the farmers at the farmers market?
How to shop at the farmers market
One of the best parts about shopping at the local farmers market is having the opportunity to talk directly to the people who know our food best—community farmers and local growers. Unfortunately, many of us do not take advantage of this unique opportunity.
This summer, try making more than just small talk with the farmers. Instead, get to know the farmers, and their food (your food), more. Here are ten questions you should ask the farmers at the local farmers market.
10 questions to ask at the local farmers market
1. Where is your farm located?
Megan Byrd, dietitian and food blogger of The Oregon Dietitian, says the whole point of shopping at the local farmers market is to support local farmers and growers by buying fresh, local ingredients, so make sure it’s actually local. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “local” is considered anything grown, produced or raised within 100-150 mile radius.
2. How many different types of produce do you grow?
A farm that offers a large variety of produce is usually a good indicator their farm is truly sustainable. Farms with several crops are more likely to use crop rotation, which helps reduce soil erosion, improves crop yield and increases biodiversity. (Who knew!)
3. Did you grow or raise this yourself?
It is not uncommon for some local farmers market vendors to purchase wholesale items and resell them as their own crops. (I know, I was surprised too). Diane Kuthy, former farmers market vendor, lifelong hobby gardener, homesteader and founder of the blog How to Grow Everything, shares more.
“You’d be surprised to find out how many vendors at farmer’s markets are selling wholesale produce purchased from other growers. I was shocked at how many vendors were selling goods from other states.”
To ensure you are purchasing foods directly from the farmers themselves, Kuthy recommends looking at other vendors’ produce selection. Most farmers and growers in the local region will generally have the same items available at the same time, so if vendors are offering items that look out of season, it’s best to bypass them entirely.
You can also look for producer-only local farmers markets. These markets only feature farmers that grow the food they are selling on their own farms. Contact the local farmers market director or check the main website to find out if your local farmers market is producer-only.
4. How did you get such great color, size, shape and results?
She says, “Gardeners tend to be an easy-going group that loves to share our knowledge and tricks we’ve picked up along the way. If someone is selling a type of produce that has given me problems in the past, I’ll ask if they have any secrets to share.”
5. When was this picked?
Most farmers and growers will harvest fresh produce the same day it arrives at the farmers market, so if produce was picked more than a day ago, you may want to politely pass. Remember, the more time the food stays off the vine, the more nutrients it loses.
6. What growing practices do you use at your farm?
When shopping the local farmers market, many of us may think organic is the way to go. However, obtaining a USDA organic certification can be incredibly pricey and is a lengthy process. However, this doesn’t mean local farmers and growers do not adhere to organic or sustainable growing practices. Organic or not, ask farmers how they handle fertilizers, plant diseases, insects and other pests so you can avoid any produce grown with chemicals or pesticides.
7. What do the animals eat? Where do they live? How are they cared for at your farm?
Some local farmers markets offer a selection of meats, so ask how the animals live. Chickens should be free ranged, while cows and pigs should be pasture-raised. If farmers supplement their diets with grain, ask if the grain is organic and soy-free. Remember, you are what you eat and what your food eats. Ask if the animals have access to a clean water source and if they live outside and have access to roam freely in the great outdoors.
8. How should I prepare and store this?
Local farmers and growers usually have some of the best tips on how to prepare and store food. After all, they are the ones growing it. Ask how long different foods should last so you can prioritize eating them. Also, ask for any cooking tips, preparation practices and favorite recipes you can recreate at home.
9. What foods are coming soon?
Besides enjoying the current bounty of the local farmers market, ask what foods are coming soon. Finding out what will be in season next can help you plan ahead and prepare future recipes. The farmers are the experts. and they’ll know how various factors like early and late frosts and animal life cycles can affect when foods will make their debut at the local farmers market in the coming months.
10. Can I visit the farm?
Farmers and growers who are proud of their growing and ranching practices take pride in their work, which is why many farms may allow you to come and visit. Some farms offer specific visiting hours, while others may offer a few open houses on certain days or weekends. It is truly an enlightening experience to see exactly where and how your food is grown and raised. If you can’t make it out to the farm, ask for the farm’s Instagram handle so you can check out the farm virtually!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
While you shop the local farmers market, keep these questions in mind so you can get to better know your local farmers and growers. More importantly, you’ll learn about your food, where it comes from and how it’s grown so you can make the best food choices possible.