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Market time

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Sure, farmers work hard all year round. But us city types tend not to think about farms until summer rolls around, when local bounty becomes more visible and, hey, we might even grow some zucchini of our own.

The group blog Organic To Be has a list of questions to ask at your local farmers' market. Just because there's produce at a farmstand, blogger Jeff Cox suggests, doesn't mean that it's really fresh, organic, or even local. (Think about it: If avocadoes don't grow in your area but you see them at a farmstand, where the heck did they come from?) 

Cox offers some seriously gritty questions for grilling your local farm vendor: "Ask how he controls cabbage worms . . . Ask how he controls corn earworms . . . Ask his soil pH." If the vendor (who may not actually be a farmer but an employee of the farmer) can't answer satisfactorily, buyer beware.

Meanwhile, Tom Philpott at Grist has a plan for making sure that real farms can grow enough to feed everybody real food: encourage the survival of the mid-sized farm. See, most food in America comes from mega-farms, while most of the stuff sold at farmers' markets comes from little farms. In order to get more of the quality stuff at farmers' markets to the masses, Philpott suggests, we need mid-sized farms to get it grown and distributed:

bq. Although the farmers' market model works well for farms small enough to sell all or most of their produce directly to consumers, it makes only limited economic sense for mid-sized family farms. And it's precisely these mid-sized farms that could ramp up local and regional food chains to a point where they supply a large part of the American diet.

Like the middle classes, the mid-sized American farm is getting squeezed between the direct-selling method of small farms and the price-fixing system of big farms. "Mid-sized farms could fill the void between the farmers market and the grocery section of Wal-Mart at the local and regional level, but right now, the marketing infrastructure needed to move their goods to nearby consumers doesn't exist," writes Philpott.

In other words, it ain't just about supply and demand, but about getting that supply to that demand.