Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Farmers' Market Tip

San Diego farmers' market - not local
A month ago, Hannah and I were at the farmers' market in beautiful, historic downtown Charleston. And we made an interesting observation.
It's actually been a trend at all the markets we've visited across the country, starting on the central California coast, in San Diego, California, Gilbert, Arizona, St. Augustine, Florida and many places in between. Many of these markets allow the sale of "local" produce that actually travels quite a distance. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which vendors are selling produce that is grown in from somewhere that we could actually bike to in a day or less. 

Why is this so important? We spend a lot of time reminding people that food comes from farms. But in a sense, it also often comes from trucks, from roads that are passable, from fuel that is cheap and abundant. 
No roads, no fuel, no food. One very good reason - human health and economic well being aside - to build up our local food production is that should a natural or other kind of disaster ever occur, we won't go hungry. We can find alternate means of transporting food five or ten miles from farm to table.

Local farms can't grow and thrive if they are always being outcompeted by those that can grow food more cheaply farther away. So we try to pay attention to who we're buying from when we shop so that we can support growers who are closer to home - even if they're not certified organic. 

Charleston, SC farmers' market - local!So here's what we noticed: At most of these farmers' markets, the farms that sell produce that only comes from 10-100 miles away put way more effort into their produce displays.Tablecloths, nice baskets, bunches of flowers, handmade signs, creative touches everywhere. Without thousands of pounds of produce to dump on the table, these small farmers put way more time and effort into the presentation.

On the other hand, if a vendor is selling stuff that's not in season and they have large quantities of it heaped up in plastic tubs, it's probably being trucked in from some valley where it can be cheaply produced and the growing season is longer. The person selling it is not actually the farmer but a distributor who probably buys from multiple sources.

Yes, it's superficial, but it's a great rule of thumb, so I'm sticking with it. If there's not much selection but the produce looks fresh and robust, you can bet that farmer is actually behind the table and can tell you how it was grown. And as long as we're judging books by covers, we think a beautiful display says something about the care and attention that farmer pays to their work! I'll take these meaty asparagus spears over hothouse tomatoes in April any day. 


  1. We're those farmers ! Can't believe I stumbled across your blog. THANK YOU so much for coming to our Ambrose Farm farmers market booth. Your words are a blessing to a tired soul. You're awesome

  2. How unexpected! Thanks for reading! Also, thanks for the stickers... I still have one on my bike. :) Hope to stop by the market again some day. - Tuula