Your Health

Four Questions You Should Never Ask Your Farmer

I love going to the farmer’s market and seeing all the great stuff my local farmers and artisans have brought for the day. I usually end up asking questions like, “oh, what’s that?” or “what does that taste like, it looks really interesting?”, or even “how do you make that?” because I love to get their take on how to best use their produce. But there are some questions you should never ask your farmer, unless you want him to wish you never stopped by his stall in the first place.

In his piece for Civil Eats farmer Forrest Pritchard, and author of Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, gives us his point of view–from the other side of the market table.

1) Was this picked fresh this morning? Considering that they get up early, have to pack everything up, get to the market and unpack, how did they have time to pick fresh produce?

So when should the harvesting happen? At 2 a.m.? I’m picturing a bleary-eyed farmer with a headlamp, picking corn with one hand and drinking coffee with the other. As Rachel Bynum of Waterpenny Vegetable Farm explained to me, most market produce is picked a day or so before (depending on the fruit or vegetable), then loaded onto the truck in the cool of the evening before market day.

2) What time do you get up? Now why would you need to know this? Perhaps you’re just curious, but as Pritchard points out there’s no good answer:

For instance, if I say, “Oh, about 6 o’clock,” the questioner’s face turns thoughtful for a moment. “That seems kind of late, doesn’t it? I mean, I get up at 5:45 myself.” If I say “A little before 3,” their eyes go suddenly wide. “Why do you have to get up so early? To milk the cows or something?”

3) I know you’re not open yet, but I’m in a hurry … could you sell me something before the bell? I’ve never been at the market this early, but if I was, I would give my farmer the time she needed to get setup for the day first.

Where else in the world could someone get away with this question? Despite how it might appear at first glance, it takes farmers a long time to set up their booth each morning. Trucks must be unloaded, tents erected and produce arranged.
4) Since it’s the end of market, can I get a special deal on what you’ve got left?

This one’s a little trickier. I once asked my friend John Hyde, a baker for 25 years, what he thought about discounting leftovers at the end of market. His face lost all expression as he gave me this advice: “Forrest, that path leads to madness.”

He elaborated. “If we gave discounts at the end, then people would simply wait till the last ten minutes of market to shop. And what about the loyal customers who paid the normal price? They’d be insulted to learn they got charged more for showing up on time. It’s always better to donate it to a food bank than to discount things at the closing bell.”

Read the full Civil Eats article here.

So the next time you’re at the market have some fun and talk to your farmer, but leave these four at home.

About Laura

Laura is passionate about food from real farmers and artisans. She lives with her husband in Grand Rapids on the river. Sometimes it flows over, but mostly she is greeted by the ducks, geese and her neighbor's chickens. They like to hop up on her windowsill and eat the spiders. Yay! She is the co-founder of Two Sister Organics, a natural and organic skin care company, and Eating Local & Organic.

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