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Is It Really Organic? 3 questions to ask at your local farmer’s market

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Smiling faces, shiny apples, dark green lettuce, and babies in strollers. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy my favorite local farmer’s market on a sunny morning. Who wouldn’t assume that everything here is locally grown, good for you and grown without pesticides?

I recently overheard a conversation a farmer and customer were having about the apples he was selling and her questions about them. “Hi, I’d love to buy some of your apples. Are they organic?” The farmer immediately got very defensive (red flag) and went on to tell her that organics are “a big farce.” He even raised his voice when she wanted to ask another question. A few minutes later, he had her so confused with his misinformation, she ended up buying a small basket of his apples. Wow, bullied at the market, I thought. A perfect example why you, the consumer, need to have some info before you head to the farmer’s market.

Asking the farmers and vendors a few questions will assure you that you are getting what you’re paying for. Here’s some questions to ask that will help you decide what you’re buying is healthy for you and your family.

1. Is your food certified organic? Any farmer that sells organic produce is going to have their “organic certification” sign in full view at the market. It cost him a lot of money and time to become organic certified. In order to become certified organic, the USDA requires your farm had 3 years without any synthetic chemicals or pesticides and no use of GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

What about other farmers who say they grow organically, but aren’t certified? Without certification, it’s more than likely that no one is checking on their “organic” claims. Fortunately the farmers who participate at my local market have required visits from “the people in charge” to be sure the farmer’s growing practices are exactly what they say they are. If a farmer or vendor tells me that his produce was “grown using organic practices” or “pesticide free,” I know that I am getting exactly that. This is a huge advantage, but what if your local market doesn’t follow these guidelines? Read on.

2. How do you control weeds on your farm? A farmer might tell you that he doesn’t spray his crops, which could be true, but he might be spraying his fields with chemicals or pesticides before he plants his crops. Since the crops aren’t actually directly sprayed, the farmer can make the claim they are “spray free.”  Is this fair to you, the consumer? Definitely not, that’s why it pays to be informed. Hand weeding, using mulch and cover crops are a simple way to ward off weeds, especially on the smaller farms.

3. How do you control pests and disease on your crops? We want to hear the farmer use words like “compost, plant, mineral or animal derived.” These are common sources used instead of chemicals and pesticides to keep disease away. Bringing in beneficial insects like ladybugs to the farms is a great way to keep unwanted chewing insects away. This can be very expensive though, considering bugs do “fly away.”

Ninety-nine percent of farmers are hard working honest people who want to provide us with good clean food. It’s up to us to know what we’re buying. Ask questions, ask your friends and family where they’re getting their organics from. And do your own research. Be informed so you too don’t end up buying “bad apples.”

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