HOMEGROWN Life: When Does A Farmers Market Become A “Farmers Market”?
Hello all you simple minded people out there! Its time once again for my words of wisdom that i now refer to as my “Blog-gation”!!!
Anyway, I am going to continue my full frontal assault on some of the practices at various farmers markets around the Boston area-last month it was price gouging, and this month it is the practice of vendors selling crops that they did not grow themselves.
I guess I want to start with a question to my readers: when you got to a farmers market, do you assume that the produce you purchase was grown by the vendor you purchased it from? And if it wasn’t, would you be surprised and perhaps disappointed? Well, I hate to tell you this, but at many of the farmers markets in the Boston area, this may very well be the case. A large number of markets permit farmers to bring in produce from one or more farmers to supplement what they have grown themselves, effectively allowing farmers to run mini supermarkets as opposed to farm stands. In the process, they are deceiving the public and keeping out other farms by taking up space that they otherwise would not need if they where only selling their own crops. This practice is hurting farms who sell only what they grow themselves because it is creating an artificial competitive advantage. As a farmer, and one that refuses to sell anything other than what I have produced myself, nothing pisses me off more than making the effort to actually grow something than having to compete with someone who did not make that same effort. That anger propelled me to decide to only sell at markets that only allow for sale of produce grown by the farm, and also to successfully lobby to have the Central Sq, Cambridge market change the rules to only allow farms to sell their own produce.
Some markets, including the Copley Sq and Government Center Farmers Market, allow the vendors to bring produce from up to 3 other farms, creating, in my opinion, a situation where the farmer does not need to depend on sales of their own products in order to make a living. It also shields them from the risk inherent in farming and direct marketing. If it’s going to rain, and sales are going to be slow, they simply don’t buy crops to sell. Whereas those of us that choose to play it straight, still have to try and sell. Otherwise, we might lose the crops in the field. The risk that we take is part of the reason that people want to support us. As far as I am concerned, the practice of selling produce other than what one has raised takes advantage of that desire – and also the trust – that our supporters have in us. Trying to mask what is actually happening by calling it a “cooperating sales system” or whatever further deceives the public.
I think the biggest flaw we have in our markets here in Massachusetts is the lack of a organization or system to verify the origin of the produce being sold at the markets. We need, as a stipulation for using the term “farmers market”, a uniform set of rules or laws that would apply to all farmers markets across the state.
Anyway, enough for now. For those of interested in my musical career, my band, Steve the Farmer and the Murder Balladeers will be playing at All Asia, Central Sq, Cambridge on Saturday, November 13th at 2 in the afternoon. It’s a Thanksgiving benefit show for local food kitchens. If you attend, please bring a non-perishable food item to donate. There’s some kind of pot luck dinner being put out by the bands and I am donating a lot of produce for it. Hope to see you then, Steve
I grow vegetables on 35-acres in Lunenberg, MA. My farm – Parker Farm – has been operating for 19 years and, if it doesn’t kill me, I’m planning to farm this land for many years to come.