Farmers Markets: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The one place left in the world you think you can meet good, honest, hard-working people, right?
Well for the most part this is true, but there are always the few that you have to look out for, I am here to warn you about ‘those people’.
Disclaimer: First, let me point out that not all farmers markets are run this way and certainly not all vendors are like this.
Remember- I am talking about the few bad apples that ruin it for the whole bunch.
The truth needs to get out there so You are no longer deceived. Everyone deserves the right to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown.
The TRUTH About Farmers Markets and The Lies Behind The Produce
When I was a newbie to the farmers market circuit I went into it with blinders on.
I still believed a handshake meant your word and we were all in this together.
Good, honest, salt-of-the-earth people who would do anything for one another.
Although my experience has jaded me in a lot of ways, I still hold on to the hope that most people are this way.
Unfortunately, not all are. We need some transparency with our Farmers Markets. The Public (you) deserves the right to know.
#1 Farmers Market Lie- You will meet the farmers
Many people go to Farmers Markets to connect with the farmers that are growing their food.
Truth is, many farmers are in the fields at the farm working so they hire people to work the markets for them.
The other truth is you are dealing with re-sellers, I will talk more about this in a minute.
#2 Farmers Market Lie- They Grow The Food They Sell
In recent years Farmers Markets have become the new Gold Rush and everyone wants a piece of the action.
Problem is, not everyone can own a farm. So now the re-seller enters the picture.
RE-Seller: A Person(s) who sells items they did not grow.
Many markets allow re-sellers and some are required to advertise Grower or Re-Seller, but some are not.
If a market allows re-sellers, the re-sellers are ‘supposed’ to purchase their food from local farms.
Not ALL Re-Sellers are Created Equal
Not ALL re-sellers are bad. I was a re-seller.
But I was dedicated to supporting only local farmers from my state, and I went to each and every farm.
I inspected their growing practices, I visited the animals, I cared where my food came from.
Some farmers can not leave their farm, they do not have the manpower to work the fields and the markets so they need re-sellers to bring their produce and goods to you, the consumer. This is a good re-seller.
The Bad Re-Seller
In my opinion, a bad re-seller is someone who purchases their produce in bulk from a wholesale distributor.
They don’t know where the produce was grown, how it was grown or when it was harvested. In my opinion, they are worse than the produce at a chain grocery store because they are not regulated by any authority for safe handling protocol.
When the Farmers Are the Re-Seller
Even markets that don’t allow re-sellers still allow their farmers/vendors to outsource a portion of their offerings.
This allows a farmer to still make an income when they have experienced loss due to weather or pest infestation.
Sometimes crops take a hit due to unforeseen circumstances, without allowing re-selling, a farmer could lose his income and go out of business.
However, some farmers abuse this allowance and buy their supplemental goods from out of state- even out of the country.
This means your farm-grown produce could be the same produce that your local grocery store is selling.
Imported from another country, picked green and probably sold with an inflated price tag.
When A Good Farm Goes Bad
I have talked to a big local farm here who told me it was cost-prohibitive to grow their own food vs buying imported and selling it off as their own.
This farm has a HUGE fall festival where they sell pumpkins in a big field, attracting customers from all over the state.
They purchase those beautiful future Jack-O-Lanterns and place them in the fields so unsuspecting customers can come and ‘pick’ their locally grown pumpkin.
#3 Farmers Market Lie- It’s Local
If you live in a cold climate and they are selling tropical fruit at your farmers market, guess what?
Either the person you are buying it from is an agricultural genius or they are selling imported produce.
Farmers Markets- What is considered Local?
Most markets require the farm from which the produce is coming from to be located within 50-100 miles from the market and within the state in which the market is being held.
Some markets will make an exception with the state if they are close to a border.
I’m a HUGE supporter of local food and eating in season. Read my top 5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Local and In Season.
#4 Farmers Market Lie- It’s Organic
Many markets are cracking down on this but some still slip through the cracks. Organic produce has seen the highest growth rate in sales over the last couple of years then any other market, and vendors know this.
In order for a vendor to legally advertise they are organic, they must provide their USDA Organic Certification.
If a seller is advertising organic, ask to see their certification, if they can’t provide it- move on.
Certified Naturally Grown
Obtaining organic certification is an extremely expensive process than many farmers can’t afford. So even though they grow organically, they can not legally advertise that they do.
However, there is now a program called Certified Naturally Grown.
Certified Naturally Grown is a grass roots company that offers farmers an affordable accountability certification verifying their growing practices.
I also encourage asking the farmer/vendor a plethora of questions (see list below) if they do not have any certification so I am comfortable buying from them.
#5 Farmers Market Lie- The Artisans Are Using Local Ingredients
You know that fresh-baked blueberry scone you just bought?
Have you asked yourself if it’s blueberry season? Or that slice of pineapple upside down cake, can they grow pineapples in your state?
Market rules apply to everyone at the market, not just the farmers. Artisans need to adhere to the same principals- locally sourced. Of course there are exceptions to this.
Eggs should come from their own farm or a local farm, fruit should come from their land, honey from their bees, and butter from their dairy animals.
Farmers Market Questions To Ask
Transparency is key to everything. A good farmer/vendor or artisan should be transparent and happy to answer your questions.
Questions for the Market Manager
My first piece of advice is to find the Market Manager of your Farmers Market and ask them the following questions:
- Does your market allow re-sellers?
- Are the re-sellers marked or advertised so you know who they are?
- Do they perform farm inspections?
- What do they look for when they perform their farm inspections?
- How often do they perform inspections?
- Do they require the farmer to provide certification for organic advertising?
- Are their farmers/growers local?
- If so, what are their requirements to be considered local?
Questions to Ask The Farmer/Vendor
- Are they the farmer?
- Where is the farm located?
- What are their growing practices? Example: Organic, Naturally Grown, Conventional
- What do they do for pest control?
- Do they use GMO seeds? If they don’t know what GMO is, move on.
- Can you visit the farm?
- When was the item harvested?
- Did they grow it?
- If they didn’t grow it, where did it come from and how was it grown?
- How to prepare it?
Please remember- there is good and bad in everything. It is our job, as the consumer, to ask questions.
BONUS: Farmer’s Market Tip!
You can ask the farmer’s/vendors for bulk rates to help save on cost.
Buying 20 lbs. of tomatoes is a lot cheaper than buying tomatoes by the pound.
Another money-saving tip is to shop the farmer’s markets at the end of the day, right before they close.
You will get better deals and may be able to make an offer for the whole lot. For instance, offer a vendor $50 for everything they have left.
To learn more budget friendly tips, I have 10 Easy Ways to Save Money On Fresh Produce.
Skip The Farmer’s Markets
Two ways you can avoid the deceit of the market.
1- Grow your own food. This is the ideal situation, to be able to grow your own food. We have some tips to help with that in Gardening For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know.
2- Get your produce straight from the farmer at the farm. Many farmers are begging for help in picking their fields. In fact, I write about how to get FREE food by Gleaning The Fields.
Thursday 13th of August 2020
Wow - some really great points that I hadn't considered before! I'm wondering if this is more of an issue in big city/suburban area farmer's markets? I live in a remote part of Canada's subarctic and when I go to the closest farmer's market I know many of the sellers personally! Found you on the Simple Homestead Blog Hop. :)
Sunday 8th of July 2018
Can buy more cheaply at grocery store--do not trust the farmers....
Monday 11th of June 2018
Great article! This really confirms my casual observations of our local farmers market, I could see the expended packaging discretely tucked away so the produce could be placed haphazardly in bulk at their card tables.
Monday 11th of June 2018
Thank you. I don't want to give farmer's markets, or farmer's, a bad rep- but I feel the public deserves the right to know. Not all of them are like this, however, this is becoming more of the norm, unfortunately.
Monday 10th of July 2017
These are great points to look for when going to the Farmers Market. I love to be able to support local farms and businesses as much as possible, but am spending a TON more than I would at the store. (I like fresh jams and jellies) I would hate the spend that much and not have truly succeeded in what I'm trying to do by going to the farmers market.
Monday 10th of July 2017
Many people are just like you, wanting to support their local farmer so they are willing to pay a little more. There are many authentic, real farmers out there selling their naturally grown goods, you just need to ask the right questions. When you find the right farmer you can trust, you truly have it made. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and commenting- much appreciated! Green Blessings, Amber
Monday 10th of July 2017
WOW. This certainly bursts my bubble about farmers' markets! I haven't been to one in the US for ages (since I now live in the UK) but I'll definitely be keeping this in mind the next time I visit one here or in France, where I love to shop for produce.
Monday 10th of July 2017
Yes, I believe things are much different here in the states, although I've never been to France. I feel we are more disconnected with our food source and unfortunately, we need to be diligent. If we ask enough questions, we can weed out the fakes. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and commenting. Green Blessings, Amber