We’re huge fans of farmers markets around here. I have one within walking distance of my house, and I prefer to pick up my produce, dairy and sometimes meats there whenever I can. I might pay a bit more sometimes, but I like supporting local farmers, and being able to look the person who is growing my food in the eyes.
But I have to admit I sometimes wonder if all the vendors are on the up-and-up. Could some of them be reselling fruits and veggies, passing off store-bought produce as their own?
Well it turns out I was right to wonder. Because while the majority of folks at your local farmers market are likely legit hardworking farmers, a new look at how NYC Greenmarket—a New York City based organization with over 50 farmers markets under their umbrella—battles to fight fraud, revealed there are often some bad apples in the bunch.
So how can you know if the food you’re purchasing at your own local market comes from a local farm? Well, the truth is you can’t be 100 percent positive. But by being an alert consumer you can raise your odds of getting the real deal.
Following are three tips to help you avoid fraudsters at your local farmers market.
1. Question out of season produce:
If a vendor is selling food that seems like it’s out of season for your local area… such as selling strawberries in November on the East Coast… this could be a red flag. Since some farmers do have greenhouses that allow them to grow crops out of season from time to time, finding a bunch of eggplants available in February doesn’t absolutely mean the farmer is a cheat. But it should trigger you to ask some questions.
Farmers tend to be a friendly lot who love to chat about what they do, so don’t be afraid to ask them about any out of season foods you spot. If you don’t like the answers, or they seem reluctant to answer, skip that stand and try another vendor instead.
2. Be wary of waxed or “perfect” appearing produce:
If a vendor’s wares look shiny and waxed, or they appear perfect without blemishes and uniformly sized, alarm bells should go off. The truth is small growers, or individual organic farmers, don’t often grow picture-perfect produce. And fruits and vegetables don’t pop out of the ground, or get plucked from a tree, looking super-shiny and bright.
Once again it’s time to ask questions, and when in doubt simply move on.
3. Give commercial cartons or crates a second look:
If you spot a farmer pulling produce out of a commercial carton or crate pay close attention, you could be dealing with a cheat. This one can be tricky since a vendor may simply be reusing an old box. For example, squash being stored in an old apple crate is probably just a case of reusing. But apples being pulled out of a commercial apple box with a different farm’s name on it might not be legit.
Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer about it. If he seems uncomfortable, or tries to dodge your question, he might have something to hide.