Buying Local–Farmers Markets, Part 1

One of the best places to find local producers selling local foods—whether basic (fruits, vegetables, meats) or “value added: (jams, breads, cakes)—is a nearby farmers markets. A trip to my community farmers market is usually part of my weekend, and I love seeing what’s unusual, seasonal, and available. I get to talk to producers and pick up some locally grown flowers to brighten up the house (at least some location where the cat won’t find them and chew them) along with some food. As in other parts of the country, farmers markets have been increasing in Flyover Country. New ones seem to spring up regularly. That said, not all farmers markets are producer only.

Okay, I’m in Indiana. If I go to the market in May and someone is trying to sell me tomatoes or peaches, I know they haven’t been locally grown! You would do well to ask your seller about their products! Many markets place limits on what can be sold—some markets are producer-only. Others permit them to sell a small percentage of goods that someone else has produced (clearly marked); one could, for example, sell some of the neighbor’s eggs along with one’s own beets and lettuces. At my local market, one seller in particular sells apples that they’ve purchased at an Amish produce auction along with their own bounty. Do I buy those apples? Yes, I do—they are from Indiana and, more importantly to me, they are unusual varieties, the sort that I’ll NEVER see in a supermarket or even a store like Whole Foods. I’m talking about varieties largely meant for cider, like interesting russeted varieties (don’t think I’ve even seen Roxbury or Golden Russets anywhere but the market and they are actually my favorites!) Really, a supermarket sells the same old Red or Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fujis, Braeburns, Honeycrisps, etc.

Which means that it’s Definition Time. There are farmers markets and there are public markets. A farmers market, by definition, is, in part or whole, comprised of sellers who have produced their own goods for sale directly to the public at large. A public market is a (usually) centrally located market bringing together buyers and sellers. Some of the merchants may be farmers selling directly, but this is not a requirement. Often, their purpose is to provide benefits for a community and they have stated goals. For example, some residents may find it difficult to source fresh fruits and vegetables, in which case a public market serves a very critical need (even if the produce is initially purchased from a wholesaler). Historically, public markets were owned by the municipality in which they were located.

Public markets serve a purpose and there exist some well known ones in the Flyover States—the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (Michigan), Cleveland’s West Side Market (Ohio) and the Milwaukee Public Market (Wisconsin) are but three examples. A public market may be an excellent source for local produce—just because it’s not labeled a “farmers market” doesn’t mean you won’t find any nearby farmers there!

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