At the Farmers Market

Now that it’s summer and locally grown produce is plentiful, you have probably noticed more farmers markets around. There is a lovely “feel good” aspect to farmers markets. You can smell the fresh fruits and vegetables and the people selling the produce know “the story” and give out free samples. Farmers markets are also a great family outing. Some markets also sell crafts, fresh flowers, prepared foods and baked goods.

Here in California, farmers markets are regulated. Market managers must ensure that only true farmers’ are selling produce that has been grown on their own property. (Read an article written by well-respected Los Angeles Times writer, David Karp, here.)

In conversations with many of my farmer friends, I learned why they have chosen to participate in farmers markets. Many times, they can market fruit that is too ripe or does not meet certain packing standards to sell to their regular commercial customers. Or they want to support their local community. Some say that the extra money they bring in at the market allows them to make a profit on their farm.

But some of my farmer friends have expressed to me that they wish they didn’t have to sell at farmers markets. After working 5 days a week on the farm, they find it exhausting to work extra hours or over the weekend at a farmers market. Some say that they lose a lot of product at the market. At the end of the day, any unsold produce must be dumped, since it has been out of refrigeration all day. Farmers also tell me that although they enjoy the “fame” they get when consumers like their products and farm identity, and they like interacting with the chefs, it is a lot of work.

Bottom line is that there are pros and cons to buying produce at farmers markets.

The pros are that you get to meet the farmer and learn about where the food is grown. The products are usually ripe and ready to eat. The produce is freshly picked and the ambiance of the market makes you feel good.

To me, the cons are that the produce doesn’t usually last (in my experience) for more than a day or two, because it’s not usually refrigerated, like at a conventional supermarket. The prices may be a bit higher, but it’s usually worth it, especially for the ripe and ready-to-eat fruits.

I do get a little nervous when I see produce out of refrigeration. With all the focus on food safety and food security in our industry, I feel most comfortable buying my produce from a market where I can see that the products (especially the vegetables, like cut lettuce and spinach) have been handled properly and the “cold chain” has been intact.

When I go to the farmers market, I meet a few girlfriends for coffee and then we walk through, picking out produce that is appealing for that night’s dinner. I pick some nice flowers and roasted nuts.

But for me, I feel most comfortable shopping in a regular grocery store or specialty food shop. Everyone has to make their own choice. But I think it is important to know that you have choices.

Just keep eating more fruits and veggies!