Farm Markets - How to have informed customers
by Alisha Green
Being able to cater to a diversity of cultures is an important skill for any farmer selling their crops, but what about being able to communicate with every customer about the basics of what is being sold?
Interviews with vendors at farm markets yield one resounding answer: there could be a better system for communicating with consumers. From defining organic and sustainable to labeling produce as homegrown, farm direct, or wholesale, there are many questions that customers should be asking to make the most of their experience and find what they're really looking for in their food. Having informed customers also helps growers and sellers understand what the real demands are and what they can do to meet those.
Some of the issues that come up in customer interactions are addressed through interviews wtih vendors at various farm markets in the mid-Michigan area.
Organic. Sustainably grown. Ecological. Biologically intensive. What's the difference? The most important thing to undersand with all of these similar terms is that organic is the one certified by the USDA, but it's not what all vendors feel is necessary to be environmentally friendly. Vendors at the Meridian Farm Market in Michigan share their thoughts on what these labels mean and which questions customers should be asking to find out how their food was grown.
Put a Label On It
Some people go to farm markets expecting vendors to be the growers of all the food on their tables, but that expectation does not always match what is really going on. Though some farm markets do restrict goods to those grown directly by the vendor, many markets have a variety of food that falls into the three categories of home grown, farm direct, or wholesale. These labels relate to the level of knowledge a vendor has about what they are selling and the traceability and accountability for the safety and quality of the food. The labels can be generally defined this way:
- Home grown means the vendor grew the food themselves.
- Farm direct implies the vendor knows the farmer who grew the food, has direct contact with them, and therefore has access to information about how the food was grown.
- Wholesale food was bought in bulk, often at an auction or other large supplier, and is the most diffuclt to trace to the place of origin, much less traceable as to how it was grown.
Three vendors at the Meridian Farm Market in Michigan discuss the policy of labeling foods with these three categories, how it helps customers, and what customers can do to make sure they're buying the type of food they really want.
Check back for more information about farm market practices. What other topics are important when you are working at or visiting farm markets? Share your suggestions with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alisha Green is an Honors College student at Michigan State University's School of Journalism. She has spent the past 18 months researching various national and international food cultures, with the goal of helping sustainable farmers understand these important niche markets.