Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

It was a beautiful fall day and I was helping the produce manager get set up at the newly remodeled store. An early rising customer bypassed the shopping carts and approached me.

“Yeah, where I can find the nearest farmers market?” He asked.

Without skipping a beat, I answered, “You’re standing in one.”

The customer rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean,” he said.

“Sure I do,” I said. “But I ask you to think about it. Where do you suppose all the produce in front of us here comes from? Factories?”

Repeated misconception

It seems the locavore movement has spawned an entire generation with the misconception that the only “real” or genuine farmer’s produce can be found at roadside stands. I overhear this assertion while shopping at my nearby store, and even at a family barbecue. The erroneous notion is also perpetuated in social media.

I led the customer on a mini tour of the produce aisle.

“See these apples? That label is from a Wenatchee, Wash., farm. I’ve personally visited those ranches. It’s a great family operation. Same thing for these pears from Oregon, another reliable farming organization.”

The tour through our conventional farmers market continued.

“These bell peppers are managed in part by my old mentor in the produce business. The list goes on. Just because we’re not set up in a dusty, roadside stand doesn’t mean we’re not a genuine representative for farmers. In fact we take it a step further.”

The customer remained suspicious.

“How so?”

“We only buy from reputable growers,” I said. “Most of whom we’ve dealt with for generations. We both comply with the latest health and safety regulations."

In it for the long run

“What about the roadside stand?”

“Hey, nobody’s beating up the roadside stand guys. They’re just trying to make a buck like anyone else, and don’t really pose a threat to grocery chains. However, most farmers markets fall far short of customers’ needs. Many are simply peddlers, not farmers. They’re here today and gone tomorrow,” I said.

“We’re in business for the long run. I can show you other things here that you won’t find at the roadside markets, like efficiently maintaining the cold chain, providing consistent quality and availability. And you can see all the clean, refrigerated display space we have for these perishable goods.”

“Uh, yeah — well, what about local?” he asked.

As available, sure.

“See the leaf lettuce? That’s from a farmer not 10 miles away. The corn is from the western side of the state. And these peaches that everyone thinks are better for some reason from open air markets? That’s from the same area.

“Everything comes from farmers, and this is a market to sell these and other goods. A supermarket.”

Finally convinced, he grabbed a shopping cart.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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