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How to Shop at Farmers Markets

How to Shop at Farmers Markets

How to Shop at Farmers MarketsI'm sure you're thinking, "Gee, it really can't be that hard!" But with the rise in popularity of farmers markets, especially in metropolitan areas where it is less likely that the stall holder is the farmer himself, it's actually not as easy as you think to find out where your food comes from. This article was prompted by a carton of organic, free range eggs at a Melbourne farmers market. To me, there's nothing better than a backyard chook egg, and it's been a challenge my entire adult life to find a free range egg that tastes as good as my backyard chooks did as a child. Nothing you buy on a supermarket shelf will come close. So on market day, I'll be the one up bright and early racing past all the stallholders looking for the freshest eggs as they tend to sell out fast. I found a market stall with loads and loads of eggs claiming organic and free range certification. I asked the stall holder where they were from. "From an organic farm in Lismore!" he exclaimed proudly. Lismore! That's about... 1600 kilometres away from my 'local' farmers market! On top of that, I'd recently seen news reports on the shortage of organic poultry feed in Australia lately. All of the organic feed in this country was coming from growers in Queensland, at least another 300 kilometres away! Talk about food miles - there are about 2000 of them involved to get food from Queensland to feed free range chooks in Lismore and trucked all the way down to Melbourne that would have taken at least 2 days if they traveled direct - no wonder the price was in the double digits. Farmers markets are often filled with 'middle men' - buying from the farmer direct and selling to you from their market stall. And that's OK, because farmers don't tend to live in big cities and being only one step removed from your farmer is a far better cry than the anonymity of our large supermarket chains. All it really means is that you go prepared with a few questions before handing over your dollars.
  1. Where did the food come from? How far away is the farm? Have you visited the farmer? (Many markets have a limit on how far food may travel from - say within a 250km radius.)
  2. Are you an employee of the farmer? (Some markets stipulate that stallholders are employed by the farm, as opposed to being a wholesaler.)
  3. When was the food picked? How fresh is it? (If it hasn't been sprayed and kept in cold storage like our supermarket food, chances are it was picked that very morning or no more than a day or two prior so that it is looking crisp and fresh. This is also a good way to keep your eat-seasonal-radar in check.)
  4. Does the farmer use organic practices? (You'll find that many farmers actually use organic practices, even though they aren't certified. Because not only is organic certification a costly exercise for some, but buying toxic chemicals to spray on their vegetables is expensive, too!)
  5. Do they have any recipes they'd like to share? How do they recommend cooking the food? (Some cheaper cuts of meat can be the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth meals if you know how to slow roast it. You'll also find many of the less-common vegetables at farmers market, heirloom varieties of fruits and veggies that have more flavour or are better favoured to the growing conditions of their farm. It's possible you'll come across food that you have no idea what to do with!)
You'll find that most stallholders have a passion for fresh food and will be more than happy to answer your questions. In fact, the more proud they are of their produce, the more their eyes light up when you engage with them. You can find out more about what farmers markets are in your area by checking the Australian Farmers Market Association's directory, checking local community noticeboards, free tourist magazines in your area and the Local Market Guide online. What's your favourite tip for shopping at a farmers' market? Share below!
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