A lot of grumbling goes on amongst organic growers about customer behavior at markets and the lack of an informed customer base. Unfortunately, grumbling rarely contributes to anything positive except a release of frustration, and sometimes not even that. So this post is an attempt at something positive. I have been thinking about the things that we grumble about most often regarding farmers markets, and I have realized that there is no way that a customer would know these things unless we tell them. So here they are, the top 3 myths/misconceptions about farmers markets and their vendors:
Myth #1: Every farmer at a farmers market is certified organic.
Reality: ONLY THOSE FARMERS WHO DISPLAY A BANNER OR SIGN FROM THEIR STATE CERTIFYING AGENCY OR THE USDA ARE CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
You can go online and check as well. MOFGA has a list on its website of all of the farms that it certifies. If you do not see an indication of organic certification on a farm’s market tent, you may always ask. However, beware of answers like, “We’re not certified, but we don’t spray”. This leads me to....
Myth #2 “No spray” is the same thing as organic.
Reality: “NO SPRAY” IS A BUZZ TERM. JUST BECAUSE A FARMER DOES NOT “SPRAY” DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY USE ORGANIC PRACTICES OR THAT THEIR PRODUCE IS PESTICIDE AND HERBICIDE FREE.
Organic certification involves a lot more than “not spraying”. Organic farms are inspected every year. Passing inspection requires detailed record keeping that demonstrates that the farmer is using not only all organic inputs but also sustainable methods to enhance the health and fertility of his or her soil. In fact soil health, and not the crops produced in it (though they certainly benefit from it, both in terms of natural disease resistance and nutritional density), is the main focus of organic farming. This blog is not the appropriate context for a detailed discussion of organic practices, but please know that there is a lot more involved in organic farming than simply not spraying.
Myth #3 All of the produce sold by a particular farmer is grown by him or her.
Reality: THE CURRENT MAINE LAW STATES THAT A FARMER MAY BUY IN NO MORE THAN 25% OF HIS OR HER MERCHANDISE AND THAT THESE PRODUCTS SHOULD BE CLEARLY LABELED. THIS LAW IS NOT STRONGLY ENFORCED, AND THERE ARE MANY WHO ARE NOT TRANSPARENT ABOUT BUY-INS AND GREATLY EXCEED THIS LIMIT.
To repeat, it is legal for farmers to buy in 25% of their merchandise, so if you prefer to support local farmers and to buy local produce, be sure to ask if the product you want to buy was actually grown or produced by the farmer. Farmers are also supposed to specify the origin of any products that are not their own, but as with all laws, this one is ignored quite frequently. Often, you only have the farmer’s word and your own common sense on which to rely. Shop the market frequently, ask questions, and get to know the farmers.