Farmers Market Conundrum—Where are the farmers?
I’ve tried everything from peas to never-fail zucchini and so far that only thing I’ve been able to grow in abundance is mint—and I didn’t even plant that! Instead of pining over my lack of gardening skills, I’m investing my energy in finding the best farmers markets in my area. I’ve been surprised by what I’ve found.
The two closest farmers markets to my neighborhood include vendors that didn’t grow their products from seed—unless organic skincare products and gourmet popcorn have suddenly started sprouting up on trees somewhere in Colorado’s eastern plains. Fresh produce booths are outnumbered 2 to 1 at our nearby market, which also includes booths for pre-packaged steaks, bakeries, and more. The presence of non-farm goods has lead me to question whether the produce that is available is actually from local farms—and if so, whether the person selling them is affiliated with a farm at all.
I’m not the only one noticing that something doesn’t seem quite right at area farmers markets. Wall Street Journal writer Lauren Etter reported last week that some “real” farmers are being undersold at area markets by resellers. These resellers buy bulk produce at auctions for cut-rate prices and then pass them off as their own at markets. Farmers who are selling their own goods are feeling the pressure to drop their own prices to compete.
The national Farmers Market Coalition is now taking steps to define what can receive the “farmers market” label. Posting on the FMC website in January, Jeff Cole, chair of the Farmers Market Coalition ad hoc Definition Task Force and Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, wrote that “the definition of a Farmers Market must be simple and clear: that it must include the words ‘farmers selling directly to the public products they have produced;’ and that a farmers market must define, and make public, what it means by ‘local.’”
When I first started frequenting farmers markets that’s what I expected to find. By allowing other vendors, the whole notion of what a farmers market should be becomes a mixed message. I want to support locally grown produce, but I don’t want to stumble over the skincare booths and artisan bread vendors to get to them.
Have you noticed your local farmers market has become less about produce and more about products? And how do you decide where to shop for locally grown goods?