Saturday, July 4, 2009

In the News - Westword Blog (Who grows the food at your local farmers' market?)

A few weeks ago I called Westword writer Joel Warner to make a wager. "I'll bet you $20," I said, "That if you stop 10 people at a farmers' market and ask them who grew the produce at the nearest stand, all 10 of them would look at you like you were an idiot. They'd say, 'Duh, the farmer standing there grew that food.'"

You know... those eggplants and melons and corn that they're selling --- in June.

Granted, there are tons of savvy locavore market-goers who know what it means to eat in season, and understand that those offerings have decidedly distant origins. But I suspect that most people who come to farmers' markets to shop do so because they want to support their community's farmers and "eat local," and believe that they are achieving this by purchasing from the folks that sell at farmstands under a local farm's banner.

I know that this is what I believed for a long time. It never occured to me that the produce at farmers' markets came off trucks from California --- dropping off boxes at the market before making a stop at Safeway to unload the rest. I'll never forget the day I was shopping at the Cherry Creek "Fresh" Market (it's not actually called a Farmers' Market, which is what its organizer explained to me as a way to justify all of the out-of-state product) and stopped at the stand for an organic farm. I picked up a tomato, which had a produce sticker on it. From Mexico.

I told the young woman selling the food that I appreciated their honesty - at least they were not removing the stickers and trying to pass the tomatoes off as their own. She looked horrified. I wouldn't be surprised if they had been instructed to remove the stickers, but the task had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, fast-forward a few years and I find myself manning my own little produce stand at a couple of local farmers' markets. We have a wonderful base of customers, with many new people stopping by each week. We always go out of our way to explain what our food is and how it's grown: "All of our produce is grown organically right here in the neighborhood. It travelled just a couple of miles to get here!" We bill ourselves as "ultra-local" to distinguish ourselves from the hybrid local/California/Mexico/God-knows-where farmstand down the way from us.

We typically sell pretty much everything we bring with us to the market, so we have no complaints. My only wish was for transparency. I couldn't stand the thought of my neighbors making the trip to their farmers' market with the best of intentions to buy local produce, and instead unwittingly leaving with a bag of stuff they might as well have purchased from Safeway. I support the right of shoppers to buy melons from California if they choose to -- I just want them to know that the melons travelled 1,200 miles to get to them.

The other farmstand at the Highlands Market now displays signs --- local produce on this side, out-of-state produce on the other side. This makes me happy. We don't need signs like that at our farmstand, which makes me even happier. Sadly, no such signs exist at the Cherry Creek "Fresh" Market, or at the others markets around town. And, despite the claims made in the article below by the Cherry Creek market manager, I'm sure local & non-local signs at that market would be pretty enlightening for the shoppers.

Many thanks to Joel for covering this... I wish for even more bullhorns to spread this message.

You can help make change happen - consumer DO control what is sold at the market (and how it is labeled). Please share this post with anyone who might be interested. Ask where the food is grown the next time you visit the farmers' market. Ask to speak to the market manager, and tell her/him that you want your market to feature LOCAL food (and insist on labeling for anything grown or produced out of state!).

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