In the wee hours of the morning, before the sun has peeked over the horizon or the rooster has shaken the sleep from his feathers, the farmer is up and getting ready for market. As the farmer steps up into his truck—or car, whichever it may be—he stops to think about the many long hours that have led up to this moment. Labeling requirements, the packaging of the product, the filling of the freezers, and relentlessly driving to and from the market.
The farmer knows how his day begins but has no idea how it will turn out in the end. He knows he will be at the market waiting. He doesn’t know if the day will be profitable or if the weather will be favorable. Hot or cold, rain or shine, the farmer will be there waiting for that first customer and the many that follow.
Here everything begins—with the farmer. The farmer should be devoted to living the life of a conscientious supplier, to creating a superior product, to providing for the customer and for his own future. Not all farmers get it, though. Not all care enough to keep plugging away at the quality of their wares or keep their product in stock. Not all farmers know how. Or perhaps these farmers don’t see the needs of their customers. After all, it’s the consumer’s needs that drive the farmer.
Ultimately, it comes down to the customer. The consumer must walk into the Farmer’s Market and take that leap of faith to buy a farmer’s product.
When a consumer shops at a farmer’s market, he or she may be taking a leap of faith, but he or she also has expectations about the products sold there. He or she might think that these goods are healthier or more wholesome, or the customer may feel the foodstuffs taste better as they are not produced in a factory. He or she does not always consider the process of creating the product. But there are many factors leading to the development of the fare. As both a consumer and a conscientious farmer, I decided to sit down and evaluate—what I consider to be—the most important aspects of buying from a farmer’s market.
Initially, the consumer must understand the differences between farmer’s markets. There are two different types of farmer’s markets out there, the first being 100% farmer/producer based with no supplementation of any kind. The second is a farmer’s market that allows supplementation—meaning they allow people to sell products that aren’t their own or that were not grown or produced by themselves. These sellers can also claim the product is their own but are not required to back up the claim with any proof. With all that being said, I don’t play favorites or prefer one over the other. My husband and I have shopped and sold at both kinds of markets, but we have always been 100% transparent about our practices.
Next, a consumer must ask questions about the products. Here at Circle B Ranch we are open to questions, and we love it when our customers want to know about what they are eating. If you like to be more informed about your food, rather than buying blindly, here are a few key questions to ask when you shop at a Farmer’s Market.
Question #1: Can I visit your farm?
This first question is extremely important; a true grit farmer is not only proud of his land but also in what he has produced from it. He or she should be open to sharing the process with you. Don’t forget to include location, directions, and a time to visit for a farm tour.
Question # 2: Did you grow/produce your products?
This goes along with how proud a farmer is. With a large grin they should say “I did”. If the answer is no, then they aren’t true farmers, they don’t have full control over what occurs in the growing process. There is no control over genetics, feed or how the animal is treated. The products could have been handled in a way that is not humane, natural, organic or healthy. I don’t know about you, but this is an important one for me.
Question #3: What does pasture raised mean?
If a farmer says their animals are pasture-raised, then they should be able to give a full explanation into what it means. How large are the pastures? Are the animals solely grass fed? Are they supplemented? What do you supplement with? Is it a true pasture or a dry lot without any sign of vegetation? These questions give more insight into the quality of the farmer’s meat products and help prove that a farmer has indeed produced the product himself.
Question # 4: What does ‘natural’ raising mean?
The answer to this will differ from everyone you talk to and has a very broad definition. Unless you have a certification that supports natural, such as Animal Welfare Approved, Humanely Raised and Handled, or USDA Certified Organic, “naturally raised” can mean something different to everyone. A farmer’s definition of ‘natural’ may not agree with your own.
Question #5: How are your animals processed?
This I find to be a very important question. How the animal is handled prior to processing effects not only the animal, but the taste as well. Yes, I understand how this sounds; I eat meat, always have and always will, but I want what I eat to be treated well. When the animal is handled poorly, it releases stress hormones that will be present when you purchase the meat at the market. If those hormones are released, and you then eat the meat, you and your loved ones can be effected by it.
Along with this central question, you can ask more to decide whether or not your food has been treated humanely: Does the processor have a Humane or Organic Certification? How do they handle the animals prior to processing? What does the holding area look like?
Question #6: How do you recommend I prepare this?
This is one of my favorites. You may not realize it but farmers are closet foodies! They love to talk about their products and the delicious meals you can make. There is nothing more gratifying than recommending a recipe and the customer coming back to say it was the best thing they ever ate! It’s definitely a passion held amongst all of the farmers we know!
After the questions, a consumer must then process the information they have gained and put their own principles into practice. Is the product actually produced by the farmer, organically raised, humanely treated? In my opinion, I would rather have a naturally raised chicken that is pasture raised than an organic chicken that is confinement raised. Yes, that is possible. You can have an “organic” chicken that is raised on a concrete slab in a warehouse, given organic feed and sunshine an hour a day. Because the growers give the chicken organic feed, they automatically become “organic chickens”. But how were they raised? How were they handled? How were they processed?
Is the farmer proud enough of the product to show me his process and give me a recipe for its use? Buy from farmers who are proud of what they have accomplished. They work long hard hours in all weather, every day of the week to bring you a wonderful product.
Am I comfortable with the product and the way it was produced? If not, don’t buy it. It’s that simple.
What it all boils down to, in the end, is your wants and needs. If you want healthy, organically grown, un-supplemented products, that is what you should have. The next time you go to the market, keep these questions in mind. They may open your eyes to what you are really buying.