Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Farmers Markets, Food Feature

From, my featured interview:

Can we assume everything at the farmer’s market is organic?

By no means. Farmers markets are wonderful places and improved signage is in the works, but customers should be aware. Labels such as organically grown, sustainable, ecological, minimally sprayed, local can be misleading. Always ask if the farmers grew all the product they are selling. If not, where was the rest grown and how.

Is everything local? How far (on average) do farmer’s/vendors source their product from?

Each market has different rules, but generally Toronto markets feature produce grown within two to three hours' drive. The 100-mile limit is a good guideline.

Talk me through the process from farm to stall.

We have a full day of harvesting, processing, packaging, sorting, cataloguing prior to market. On market day, we are up at 4.30 am for the hour and a half drive to market, one hour set-up, five hour market. Home by 4 pm, bushed after interacting with customers and other vendors in the fresh outdoor often hot air, selling, and hopefully selling out!

You vend primarily at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers Market - how does the farmer’s market select farmers to participate? What is the criteria?

This market used to be an exclusively organic market with all vendors verified to grow organically if not certified organic by third party verification. These days, customers should ask questions of vendors to ascertain their growing methods and practices. Go with farmers you can trust.

How does weather affect the growing season and the quality of the crops? If it is a late winter, or an early frost, how does this affect the produce? What are the most resilient fruits and vegetables? Which are more likely to suffer?

Southern Ontario farmers have just been through the driest summer since records began, followed by one of the wettest. Farmers are at the mercy of the vagaries of weather and the excesses of climate change, unless their operations are indoor, climate-controlled, using large amounts of energy and foregoing natural sunlight, rain, dew, wind (Nature's elements). Extreme winters, cool springs, variable summers are conditions that outdoor farmers must face up to. Late frosts, extended cold, wet summers, heavy winters, extreme heat, lack of rain are all eventualities that must be faced up to.

What else can affect the quality/quantity of crops in a growing season?

Extremes of weather, mineral and nutritional deficiences, poor farming practice and excess pesticide use can cause bug infestations, bacterial disease.

Any trade secrets/ dead giveaways in sussing out the best of the best? If two vendors are offering the same product, how do you know which is better? Are there buzzwords on signage that we should look out for?

Talk to farmers, ask questions about seeds, organic practices, GMOs, whether chemicals were used, what the nature of the soil is, when produce was picked. Be price-savvy, but appreciate that you grt what you pay for. Skimping on price will land you a less than stellar product. Biodynamic and certified organic are the gold standards.

What does the picking process look like? How large is your team? Do you pick all your produce by hand or do you use machinery to assist in harvesting?

At Rolling Hills Organics, all produce is picked fresh for each and every market. Salad greens are picked early morning, washed three times in our pure well water, spun dry, weighed, bagged, and cooled in bins ready for transport to market. We are a small team. All seeds and plants are planted, harvested and processed by hand.

You run a certified organic 55-acre farm. Talk to us about the rise in the use of pesticides - why are you adamant on growing organically?

To taste or not to taste - is it really true that we can sample everything at the Farmers Market? How open are farmers to having you sample their product before purchasing?

Our land has never seen chemicals. No pesticides of any kind are used, since we insist on farming entirely organically, holistically, sustainably, using Nature as guide. Chemicals are responsible for many of the terrible ailments afflicting the health of consumers, whether ingested from food or absorbed from a toxified environment.

Sampling at market is subject to strict health guidelines. Some vendors offer this, and we welcome customers tasting our salad greens.

What are your top picks at the market? Do you purchase non-produce items like pasta/bread/baked goods - or do you save those for the grocery store? Why?

Naturally raised, minimally processed, organic produce and foods. There are many locally-produced, small-batch, artisanal foods of good quality available at market. 

Do farmers markets account for the primary source of revenue for most farmers? Or are there other components of the business that contribute to the overall revenue - for example, supplying to local restaurants, etc.

Most farmers receive their income from a mix of farmers markets, wholesale accounts, and sales to restaurants. We prefer to focus on farmers markets where we receive full retail price and enjoy a highly respectful and regular clientele along with a constant stream of new customers.