Questions you won't hear at farmers’ markets (but should) - The Packer

Questions you won't hear at farmers’ markets (but should)

06/12/2013 03:23:00 PM
Tom Karst


Again, it is a tall order to ask a consumer to quiz a grower about their organic certification. “Yes, I’m certified organic, ma’am. “ Not good enough, sorry! Where are your documents?

More from the alliance:

If a vendor makes claims about being “pesticide free,” consumers should ask how they control pests and diseases. Since both organic and conventional farmers use pesticides when other pest and disease control strategies fail, a claim of “pesticide free” needs explanation. If a vendor can’t adequately explain how pests and diseases are controlled, it may be wise to move on. A consumer should also be aware that if a vendor states that he/she is “certified pesticide free” that no such certification exists.

At this point, our beleaguered farmers’ market vendor is wondering how much squash and tomatoes our inquisitive shopper will purchase. “Just how do you control the leaf hopper, sir?” the young mom probed. This sale better be worth more than a couple of bucks, he is thinking.

The alliance concludes:

3) Part of the fun of shopping at a farmers’ markets is meeting the people who are actually growing the food. Unfortunately, there have been incidents where vendors purchase produce from another source and then sell them as their own. (One such case was associated with a recent e.coli outbreak at a farmers’ market.) So, ask general questions about the farm: how long have they been farming; how many acres do they have; where is the farm located; when were the fruits and veggies harvested? By just asking a few polite questions, consumers will quickly see if the vendor legitimately grew the food that they are selling. And, consumers may learn some interesting farming facts as well, which will add to the shopping experience.

I might flip/flop the order of these questions. Start out with number three. “How long have you been farming?” is probably the question that these vendors get asked more than any other. It is a conversation lid-lifter. But tread lightly on “How many acres do you have?”; that’s a breach of etiquette for any size of grower.

In my view the point of the alliance’s “suggested questions” is to show the context of those small vendors compared with commercial shippers, who have to endure these questions and many more. If our farmer’s market inquiry resembles a Good Agricultural Practices audit that these local growers never had, all the better; it kills two birds with one stone.

Comments (6) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Alyssa H.    
Exeter  |  June, 13, 2013 at 01:20 PM

Unfortunately, this release will likely see little pick up by the general media. These are valid points regarding Farmer's Markets and some of the issues that go unchecked, but the approach is futile to get the point across to those who, like you say, are out for a feel-good experience. A more effective approach would have been to acknowledge, even tout, the positives about farmer's markets and then move on to advise of the issues compared to food sold at retail. The release does a lot of fear-mongering, which the its nemesis EWG is infamous for and exacerbated the perceived divide between organic and conventionally grown. The goal is to encourage consumption of all fruits and vegetables, not paint ourselves in a corner as supporting one over the other...

Alliance for Food and Farming    
Watsonville  |  June, 14, 2013 at 03:14 PM

As a clarification, this was a blog posted on our website, not a press release. But what you outlined above is exactly what we did - we clearly stated that shopping at farmers' markets can be a pleasurable and enjoyable experience and it can also be a great way to learn more about farming firsthand. Then we did go on to "advise of the issues compared to food sold at retail." The purpose of the blog was to point out ways that consumers can help themselves determine which vendors may be preferable to purchase their fruits and veggies from? How is this fear-mongering? It may be worth reading the actual blog post at

john pandol    
California  |  June, 13, 2013 at 05:29 PM

I vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix to be our farmers market czar...snif out the undocumented farmers and those posers pretending to be farmers. Shoppers ask produce managers and clerks all kinds of production oriented questions and seem to expect them to know the origin, production practices, seasonality, storage and culinary use of 400 produce items in the department. It would an interesting survey to develop a battery of questions, including some trick questions, and test produce clerks, real farmers, farmers market types, produce people up and down the supply chain. A few journalists, activities and bloggers too. What temperature do you ship honeydews at. How do get new grape plants from seedless grapes? Why is it OK to top ice broccoli but not mist it? How should fresh ginger best be prepared for inclusion in a stir fry or suate? What is bitter bit on an apple and is it OK to eat? What is the difference between using genetic modification technics and genetic markers in hybridization in developing new cultivars and how is this different than genetic mutation? Define pesticide residue tolerations: discuss how they are determined and used.

Alex G    
California  |  June, 14, 2013 at 05:56 PM

Nice attitude Alliance. You need to check yourself. Alyssa has some good points and instead of brushing them aside you would would best be served by addressing them directly and with a respectful tone. Not sure you are representing the industry well here.

New York, NY  |  June, 17, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I am a bit confused by your message, Mr. Karst. You seem to agree that such questions, as posed by The Alliance, are a good idea. On that point, you and I are in agreement. In my capacity as both a victim of foodborne illness and food policy advocate at the local and national levels, I have learned that asking questions is a critical component to consumer education. However, you seem to confuse this message with the notion that farmer's, in their country drawl, would be UNABLE to answer these questions of process. In my discussions with farmers, it seems that they are far more knowledgeable about their practices than you imply. As consumers, we might not always like the farmer's response, but that doesn't mean they are incapable of responding. If we don't like the answers, we have to work to change the policies and practices. However, it doesn't mean that we don't ask. We can change expectations and norms on both sides of the table if we have the conversation.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  June, 17, 2013 at 10:13 AM

My first read of the Alliance blog post was that it offered too many questions for patrons to ask farmers. Is water tested, how do you keep animals out of the field, etc.. Perhaps an open ended question like "How do you take take of food safety issues on your farm?" would be more realistic. I don't dispute the need to know, but the approach to the issue must be more in the context of a friendly conversation at the farmers market, not a a checklist of practices. Tom K

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight