Farmer’s Markets 101

By Gretchen Morfogen


Regular market goers this isn’t for you unless you are interested in knowing what many people don’t about attending a farmers market. As a market master I am privy to most of the comments and inquiries that pass through the market via vendors and direct contact with supporters of the market as well as eavesdropping. With the high demand for locally grown foods at an all time high and gaining serious exponential momentum~ there are new market going rookies on the horizon that may benefit from knowing some of the inside scoop on what to expect at a famers market and how to gather additional information about the foods available.

Most of the people selling at the markets (true farmers markets) are either the grower themselves or a family member or employee of the farm. They are knowledgeable about the farm, its growing techniques, the products being grown, harvested and all the pertinent details that you might want to know in getting to “Know your Farmer”. They are not reselling another growers product that was purchased blindly in a commercial setting-there is a huge difference.

Product availability is a common inquiry. Our growing season starts rather slow here in the Midwest so don’t expect to find a plethora of produce in the early part of the season, i.e. no peaches, tomatoes or corn in May/June. You will find the end of the cool season crops: spinach, broccoli, some squash, root veg, early season berries (if the market has a berry grower participating). Look for other agricultural items like maple syrup, honey, cheese, nuts, breads, wild or cultivated mushrooms, herbs and other plants, meat, poultry, eggs. It isn’t always about produce there are some excellent finds at farmers markets!

There are so many new markets popping up all over the country.  Another understanding that may not be in consumer consciousness is a shortage of small farmers in relation to the demand for local goods. Although more land is being put into production there is additional stress put on producers to increase growing capabilities to supply all these markets. With that, there are also a number of budding new producers that are just beginning their farms and may not have enough products to supply more than one market. Appreciation of the movement to provide additional land into production also means that there are jobs/internships being produced by this demand. The more long term support these markets get the more likely their sustainability will continue.

Pricing of market goods may seem high but if you take into account the enormous difference in quality of a local product vs. one that has traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles the difference is evident. The reduction in nutritional density of a weary long distance strawberry for example, should also be a deterrent in purchasing commodity produce. It might look like a strawberry but if it doesn’t smell like a strawberry then it won’t taste like a strawberry. It should be aromatic, red all the way through and super dripping down your elbows juicy!

Tomatoes are another fine example of what long distance can do to the tangible quality factors that make a tomato so delicious. Many of them are picked green and gassed for ripening (or reddening) during transportation so they arrive looking like a tomato but fail to taste or smell  like a tomato. Another faux pas is refrigerating your fresh tomatoes. They lose all substance of balance when chilled and their flavors are masked by the cold.

Typically, the farmer/vendor acts as the grower, harvester, producer, marketer, sales, public relations and quality control manager of all things produced in the farm. If you are ever unsatisfied with a purchase do not hesitate to discuss your disappointment with the farmer. They want to know and have you pleased with the fruits of their labor.

Gaining a relationship with the farmers is an important step in gaining the connection that is lost when shopping commercially.

The beauty of locally purchased goods are not only getting the absolutely best quality possible but also supporting a small business that is the backbone of our economic recovery. These budding entrepreneurs work extremely hard to own their own fate and manage their financial existence through honest, diligent, back breaking, hands on labor.

They deserve the respect and support from the communities that invite them to not only participate in rebuilding our countries economy but in supporting the restructuring of the local and sometimes fragmented communities that have brought them together.

Most markets develop a life of their own and the positive energy that manifests itself into a social environment validates everything good about sourcing locally produced goods.  Markets are a festive, energetic, place of enjoyment, with social gathering & sharing, a family friendly, educational, outdoor sensory mecca. Support your local farmers market!  For more information on farmers markets throughout Missouri visit http://mda.mo.gov/abd/fmkt/map.php for a map and other great information. See you at the markets!

Gretchen Morfogen is Market Master at the Webster Groves Farmer’s Market & a regular contributor to The Healthy Planet magazine.