Teacher always said, “Ask questions”. No question is a dumb question. If we don’t ask, we won’t know.
The same applies at farmers’ markets and buying from local farmers. Ask questions. Get to know your farmer and get to know where your food comes from.
Most Important Question to Ask Your Farmer or Market Vendor
Can I see your farm? – It’s about integrity. If the farmer is willing to show you their farm, they have nothing to hide. A reputable farmer, whether they raise animals or vegetables and fruits, will be more than happy to show you their farm. If they put you off with being “too busy for visitors” or try to change the subject, I would move onto a different vendor.
If they are selling meat:
- How are your animals raised? – Listen for words like “outside”, “pasture” or “free to roam”. You don’t want to hear “stalls”, “cages” or “always inside”.
- What do your animals eat? – Truth in advertising. If a meat product is being sold as Grass Fed, ask the farmer how much grain the animal receives. The animals aren’t 100% Grass Fed if the vendor mentions gains.
- Do you use medications or hormones? – We all get sick. Even animals. Ask how the animals are treated for sickness and what is done to prevent illness. Growth hormones are used to make animals bigger or more productive faster. Ask the farmer how he boosts production. Through breeding and natural practices or hormones?
If they are selling vegetables or fruit:
- Where do you get your organic or heirloom seeds? – Certified Organic farms can only purchase seed from approved companies. Heirloom seeds have never been genetically modified. They are collected and passed down through the family year after year.
- Do you used chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers on your fruits and vegetables? – A Certified Organic farm cannot use chemicals; they practice natural forms of pest control and fertilizing. Listen for words like “crop rotation”, “we don’t spray”, “ground cover” or “composting”. You don’t want to hear responses like “Well, you have to spray sometimes” or “the usual methods”.
- Are you Certified Organic or is your produce organically grown? – Some farmers will advertise as “Organic” when they have not gone through the certification. This is when it is very important to ask questions. A farm may not be Certified Organic, but will follow the organic practices of growing their products. This is fine; I would still purchase from this farm. But if they say they are organic and talk of spraying, then I would find some place else to get my produce. (To learn more about Certified Organic, see my blog post What is “Organic”?)
- How did you get into this (farming)? – You want to find out if this is a hobby or a life vocation. Did they grow up on a farm, worked beside Mom and Dad, and have years of experience? Ask if this is this a new venture for them or have they recently decided to get into farming.
- How has the market been for you this year? – You want to be able to judge how successful they are. Every market has it’s ups and downs. Do they admit that one crop or season was better than the other? We like honesty.
- I haven’t had this before, how do I prepare it? How would you cook it? – I like to try new vegetables; I always ask my farmer how it tastes and how they prepare it. I want to see if they will stand behind the product they are promoting.
- What new things will you be offering next season? – This is a great way to learn about produce you haven’t tried yet. It also gives the farmer and vendor an idea of how receptive their customers are to changes. It’s a win-WIN! It’s also a good way to find out if the farmer you a trying to build a relationship with will be around next year.
Why is it important to ask your farmer questions? Everything we ingest affects our bodies, good or bad. Knowing what you are eating is key to keeping healthy.
You are what your eat. You are what your food eats.
What questions do you ask your farmer or market vendor? I’d love to hear about them! You can post them in the Comment section below this post.