Farmergate: When aggie imposters infiltrate farmers’ markets

OK, I’m used to the ground shifting beneath my feet…housing prices cracked, retirement investments going into a sinkhole and so forth and so forth, but now—oh perfidy!—it seems that peddlers posing as farmers have infiltrated the farmers’ markets of the world. So some of the produce people pay the big bucks for isn’t organic or local and the money spent isn’t supporting small farming efforts, but instead rewarding non-farmers selling commercially-grown products masquerading as pesticide-free and local. Yes, it’s Farmergate.

By George Foster

One recent incident at a market involved unmasking a “farmer” selling broccoli. He was tracked back to his “farm” and asked where the broccoli was growing. Ooops, no broccoli. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that only 63% of farmers’ markets require vendors to sell products they produce themselves.

Actually, the news about aggie imposters doesn’t shake me to the very core of my Birkenstocks for I have long suspected that the vendors who offered impossibly perfect tomatoes at the markets where I lurk were really buying wholesale somewhere else, putting on a straw hat and slipping into the stall line-up.

If you care that you’re being hoodwinked, there are some things you can do. One is to use common sense. If you go regularly to a farmer’s market, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out who really grows their stuff and who is posing as a farmer.

First, talk to the vendors. Ask how they control for pests if they don’t use pesticides. Note if they have varieties of produce not available in stores. Small farmers often grow unusual varieties of grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, stone fruits and so forth—stuff that is not offered by commercial growers. So if a stand has unusual varieties, chances are you support a small farm when you buy their produce. Also notice if the signs at the stands tell the name of the farm and farmer. If you know your own area, you will actually know the farms and even the people who get up at 4 AM to truck their produce to market. In one of my favorite markets, buyers have learned over time who is the real deal and line up to buy from them. So following the lines is probably a workable strategy for finding the good stuff.

Some people think the solution to the aggie masquerade is to put the peddlers on one side of the market and the real farmers on the other, but this undercuts the small farmers who are trying to grow old-fashioned varieties organically. (The imposters with their cheap wholesale products can undersell the real farmers who can’t sell low and still survive.)

Some people avoid these markets entirely and go to the health food stores where the workers presumably are paid a living wage and benefits. Others just keep to the supermarkets. Still others have revived the Victory Garden in their own back yards.

Me, I think it’s most useful to pull back and look at the big picture and figure that almost any way of getting more vegetables and fruits into ourselves is better than trying to find one perfect source. Me, I buy from the farmers at the farmer’s markets and also buy both regular and “organic” at the supermarket and just pick what looks the best and the freshest at any source. I do grow and use my own herbs.

My kids think I am clueless that I don’t insist on organic, but I have always thought produce was sometimes not what sellers claimed and that greed was probably the only way certain produce was green.

Last, to cheer you this week is a photo called The Farmer in Love:

By Uberto

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