The other day I walked into a clothing store and came out with some sweet corn, an eggplant and two pounds of peaches.
Talk about buying produce in unlikely places.
Anthropologie, a Philadelphia-based home goods and women’s clothing store, held a series of what it called “pop-up farmers markets” this summer at some of its locations across the country.
One was in Kansas City, Mo., near where I live, so I went along, curious to see if they would have real farmers marketing produce they’d grown themselves, or whether it would just be terminal market fare dressed up in rustic-looking bins.
It turned out to be more of a food fair than my idea of a farmers market, but, among all the purveyors of handcrafted chocolates, gourmet snow cones and raw-food snack bars was one bona fide grower with a table full of produce.
Lorin Fahrmeier and her husband Bret, I found out, grow a variety of produce, including sweet corn and pumpkins, on 60 acres near Lexington, Mo.
They sell their produce at a farmers market in Overland Park, Kan., as well as at the Kansas City River Market in Missouri. They also sell to Kansas City-area restaurants and schools and run a community supported agriculture program for consumers and businesses.
We didn’t get to chat much in the hubbub of the store, but Fahrmeier mentioned then and in a follow-up conversation that she and her husband spend a lot of time at farmers markets dispelling misconceptions consumers have or myths they believe about produce and growing practices.
“Our average customer thinks that organic means no spray and has a higher nutritional value, both of which aren’t true,” Fahrmeier said.
“We work hard to encourage them to eat fresh food whether it’s ‘conventional’ or not. Another concern is that they don’t understand the primary crops that are GM versus a hybrid variety.”
Fahrmeier’s comment about consumers’ suspicion toward genetically modified produce comes up often for me in conversations with friends and is something we see frequently here at The Packer in the comments on our website as well. I asked her how she and her husband address those concerns.
“We basically give them a brief biology lesson about GM crops, tell them how we grow our produce and share with them that we use a blend of methods in our growing practices and explain how and why it works best for us,” she said.
I also asked her about food safety, since the possibility of food safety rule exemptions for small farms is a topic that’s raised a lot of hackles in the industry.
“(Consumers) have never really mentioned or asked a lot of questions about food safety,” she said. “They are just more concerned that it’s local, fresh and the fact that they know who grows it for them.”
I wonder if the Alliance for Food and Farming’s recent farmers market safety guide will change that trend in years to come.
The one-day farmers market was an event designed to get people to linger in Anthropologie’s store for a while, but I appreciated the chance to connect with one grower and learn about her operation away from the noise and crowds of a typical farmers market.
Local deals may only be around for the warmer months, but factual knowledge those growers share about the industry can stay with consumers into their winter retail produce shopping, and that’s something that can benefit all growers.
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