One of my favorite summer activities is shopping at the big downtown farmers market that takes place the first and third Saturday of each month.
My city shuts down several blocks on these days to allow for this market. Farmers and vendors from all over the area come – produce, meat, and crafts abound as well as local food vendors.
The produce I can buy at the farmers market is always of much higher quality than the vegetables at the grocery stores. It sometimes cost a little more, but not always. For example: the grocery we usually shop prices red bell peppers anywhere from $1.99 each to $0.99 – so $2 a pepper from a local farmer (and one that is of higher quality) is not a deal breaker.
Another big reason I like the farmers market is I can ask direct questions to the growers – but as I learned this past Saturday the answers are not always satisfactory.
My friend and I visited the big downtown market this weekend and had made one full round – we had our bags full of green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and radishes. We both thought some sweet corn would be a nice touch for dinner and had seen several different booths with a bounty despite current reports that the nation’s corn crop was faring badly due to the recent heat wave.
We approached one booth and waited for our turn to be helped. While waiting I told my friend that I wanted to ask some questions before we purchased the corn. I recently read that 80% of the corn, soybean, and cotton grown in the United States is genetically modified and did not want my farmers market corn to be the seed of some giant conglomerate that could be responsible for devastating ecological backlashes.
When our turn came my friend and I stepped up and the man at the booth asked how many ears of corn we wanted. “I have a question first,” I responded. “Is your corn grown from genetically modified seeds?”
His reaction (answer seems too heavy of a word) was flustered and confusing – this farmers market vendor (farmer?) appeared (played?) not to understand the term genetically modified. When pressed, he said his seeds – for all his produce (“See how nice it all looks”) – comes from Minnesota.
That was the total of his response.
He again asked how many ears of corn we wanted. In response I looked him straight in the eye and clearly responded in the negative and we walked away. Down the street we stopped at another stall and I asked the same question of young man around the age of 15. He paused and turned to ask an older gentleman behind him, perhaps his grandfather, to answer my question. This man looked right at me and told me that he did not use genetically modified seeds.
Could this farmer/vendor have been lying? Yes – the truth is when we shop for our produce we don’t have much control over what is available or knowledge about the food we purchase. We have to rely on the farmers, the vendors, the signs, or the packaging. It is often misleading (for example the term “natural” has no legal standing and “organic” products are allowed to include a range of non-organic ingredients) but if I’m going to bet on someone it will be the farmer that grows the food and takes the time to bring it to my city.