Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Does Producer-Only Matter?

Do you shop at a Farmers’ Market?

Do you know if it’s producer-only?   What does that mean?  Does it matter? 

As farmers’ markets continue to enjoy a great run of popularity, they continue to spring up around the nation.  At last tally, the USDA reported there were over 8,100 in the National Farmers’ Market directory! (http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/ ) Just 20 years ago, it was nearly unheard of to find a farmers’ market in a small town, now they seem to be everywhere.

Just because you are shopping at a “farmers’ market” doesn’t necessarily mean you are buying directly from the farmer. The rules vary widely from market to market.   That is where producer-only comes in.  At a producer-only market, the vendor must also be involved in the production of the items offered for sale…no re-sellers, no middlemen, just farmers selling farm goods directly to the end user.  This may seem like a minute distinction, but it is in fact a game-changer.

the yellow sign explains producer only

As we (as a society) have become more and more urban, we have lost our direct connection with the land, the farm and those who toil in anonymity so that we can put food on our tables. We want food to be cheap and available according to our whims while also being safe and nutritious. (don’t want much, do we?)  While folks want to refer to themselves as “foodies” and make all sorts of dietary demands, they have no idea what goes into food production. The connection between farm and fork is tenuous at best. Some say that it has already been lost.

Let’s face it.  In America, we are spoiled by food in great abundance, at relatively low prices, and food safety standards far above those in the rest of the world.  While I am not suggesting that you only shop for local food (that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion) it is my opinion that much more thought needs to go into food shopping.

To my mind, the producer-only farmers’ market is the best way to begin to rectify that dis-connect. By knowing a farmer personally, it is possible to begin to understand just what goes into the food on your table. When produce is available only seasonally, it challenges that false sense of constant abundance that ultimately devalues agricultural products. The abundant food we enjoy doesn’t just magically appear on the shelves.  It takes a great amount of human effort to feed the masses.

By putting a face on a farmer we begin to make agriculture a little more real. By knowing just one person involved in this industry essential to our survival, it gives us a reason to pay attention to and begin to understand the issues farmers everywhere face on a daily basis.  Prices, weather, technology, market trends, the global economy and politics are all vitally important issues to farmers, but for far different reasons than to those in town

As a consumer shopping a producer-only market, you are given the opportunity to ask questions of the actual producer rather than trusting in a label.  While the USDA Organic label is regulated and fines are possible for mis-use, false claims are frequently made and there is no real way to stop all false claims. Don't believe me? Read this.   The word is not supposed to be used at all if the seller is making over $5,000 annually. But, it happens (a lot).  If you’re buying from a middleman, he/she has no real vested interest in the sale.  They just want to clear out the stuff they brought and turn their profit.  Nor do they know (or possibly care) if the actual producer is following the rules and/or being a good steward, or even if that label was applied appropriately.
(A quick aside here...USDA Organic does NOT mean pesticide and chemical free, nor is it intended to.)

When you buy directly from the producer, you are assured that it is only through their own effort…
their blood, sweat and tears
that there is anything on that table at the market.  They have a vested interest in absolutely everything they sell and not only have they made an effort to grow it, they have also learned the arts of market display and direct marketing communication.  (no easy task, I assure you) A conscientious market vendor will have a working knowledge of all sorts of agriculture and be able to answer a lot of your questions objectively or at least point you to a source for more information. It is their responsibility (and theirs alone) to make sure that your shopping experience is a positive one and that you return to their market venue again and again. Their livelihood depends upon it!

A producer-only market is the first step in correcting the divide between urbanity and rural/farm life across the nation.  It is only by knowing a producer and listening to the stories of the work behind the scenes of getting food to your tables that consumers can truly appreciate the food on that table. These conversations grant a richer, fuller food shopping experience. The bonds of human relationships that are vital to all aspects of our survival as a society are forged and strengthened by the seemingly simple act of buying food.

Shopping at a producer-only market allows the consumer to reconnect with the cycles and seasons of the natural world, learn to value the efforts of their fellow humans as they toil to bring food products to the tables of the community and has the potential to change your worldview.

 ...and every sale goes a long way to ensure that the farmers are able to continue to farm and be a vibrant part of the community.

…so…yes, it really DOES matter.

1 comment:

  1. We have a small farmers market here in our little town, on the last Saturday in the month. It has only a few stalls - a buffalo farmer sells meat, a producer of elderflower cordial sells his wares, there are two home made cake stalls, a garden centre stall, a walking stick maker, and a butcher. There used to be a green grocer but he sold stuff from all over and nobody was buying it so he stopped coming.