New Online Column: Field Notes

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I’m thrilled to introduce a weekly feature, Field Notes, from our newest contributing online editor, Deborah Geering (pictured right). The column will focus on happenings, trends, and issues within the metro area’s burgeoning local foods culture. Geering recently departed from the AJC, where she wrote the paper’s weekly “In Season” column, among other stories. After this initial post, look for Field Notes to appear on the blog every Friday morning.—BA

Beware the Coconut Stand at the Local Farmers Market

A few Saturdays ago at a local farmers market, I realized that the stand where I had just bought a bag of green beans had no sign.

“So, where’s your farm?” I asked the farmer who handed me my change.

Turns out, he wasn’t a farmer at all. “State Farmers Market in Forest Park,” he answered cheerfully.

I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my disappointment. With 150 acres of space for packers, repackers, brokers and retailers, as well as farmers, the Atlanta State Farmers Market serves as a distribution center for food from all over the world. Here at this local market, filled with actual farmers selling food they had actually grown, I had stumbled upon a reseller—and I had failed to suss him out before I handed over my cash.

Not that there’s anything wrong, in theory, with resellers. The beans I bought (paid a premium for, actually) were perfectly fine. The problem is that they were just as mysterious to me as the beans I might buy in a grocery store. They could have come from anywhere in the world. They could have been grown with artificial fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides. I just don’t know, because the farmer who grew them wasn’t there to ask. Plus, I was denied one of the simple joys of farmers markets—exchanging a few pleasantries with the person who grew my next meal.

I don’t go to farmers markets to meet marketers; I go to meet farmers. That’s why most other enthusiasts I know go, too.

Some markets promote themselves as “producer-only”—meaning that at least one person operating each booth actually had a hand in producing the product that’s for sale. But how can you know for sure whether your chosen a vendor was also the producer?

“The first and best way is just to ask the seller,” advises Lauren Carey, manager of Peachtree Road Farmers Market, the largest producer-only market in metro Atlanta. “The person selling to you is hopefully honest.”
 
Here are a few other tips from Carey:
•    Beware out-of-season produce
•    Beware nonregional produce such as citrus or bananas
•    Be wary of food that looks “too perfect”: “If you see a box of squash where every squash is exactly 6 inches and blemish-free, there’s probably a reason to be suspicious,” Carey warns.
•    If a booth doesn’t display a sign or business cards, ask why.

“Farmers that grow the food they’re selling you are proud to share their story, to tell you about the variety of squash they chose to grow and how to cook it,” Carey says. “Anyone who truly did the work would be delighted to tell you about it.”

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Available now at local farmers markets: arugula, apples, Asian pears, beans, beets, carrots, chicory, corn, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, field peas, figs, greens, herbs, kale, muskmelons, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, potatoes, salad mix, summer squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon

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