Monday, September 7, 2009

Farmer's Market vs. Farm Stand?

Before the summer started I made a commitment to myself that I would visit the local farmer's market once a week to pick up all the fresh fruits and veggies that I could possibly need. Much to my surprise, the farmer's market not only had farm stands but also everything ranging from maple syrup, buffalo meat (which was a shocker to me), fresh baked breads and pies, homemade crafts and much more.

Happily carrying along my reusable bags I went from stand to stand to check out the goods. After making a mental list of where I wanted to stop I returned to the stands on my list and made my purchases.

Every Sunday the tradition continued, though the more I went the more I took notice of. For example, one of the farm stands forced me to take a plastic bag as I was shopping their table. Even though they could clearly see the large tote of reusable bags I was carrying with me, they insisted that I needed to put the produce in the plastic bag so it could be weighed on the scale. Well after taking the produce off the scale, I unloaded the items from the plastic bag to my reusable tote-and they proceeded to throw the plastic bag away! Completely defeating my purpose of bringing my bags with me. Disheartened by that merchant I vowed not to return to their table. The next table I visited for my tomatoes and peppers couldn't have been more accommodating. Placing the tomatoes right on the scale and then assisting me with placing them into my reusable tote. This table was a definite return to for me! Next up blueberries! Now these come in the papermache like quart containers. The woman working the stand was a bit skeptical that they might spill over in my bag, but I assured her that they would be fine if I put them on the bottom of the bag. With a smile, she handed them over and into my bag they went. Not a blueberry escaped the entire time I was shopping or on the ride home!

The last table I went to was a run by two people-a register/scale person and someone restocking the goods. This was a popular table and by the time I returned there was a line! I took my time carefully picking out my items. They still wanted to push their plastic bags so my reusable bags didn't get dirty :) I assured them that they were washable, and due to the line behind me she quickly put the items into my bags. However, as I turned to leave a disappointment from this table as well. The person stocking the "fresh" fruits and veggies had a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth and ashes were scattering all across the fruits and veggies ready for purchase. Not something one would think as a good thing when shopping at a farmer's market. I know myself besides wanting to shop locally I was thinking that the produce would be much better and healthier. Right before my eyes I saw that this is not always the case.

Buying local is very important, but you also want to make sure you are getting the best product for your money. At this point I felt a bit disheartened by the whole experience. Sure there were some great tables, with people who cared about the quality of their food and at the same time respected reusable bags as a great alternative to plastic. Not only is it cheaper for them if someone doesn't accept a plastic bag (one less bag they have to purchase to give away with the produce) but it is better for the environment. I stuck with the farmer's market for two months, and of course narrowed down the stands I supported and went back to them week after week.

Then something happened. On my way home from work-literally on the side of the road was a farm stand. Curious about it I decided to stop in! Not only would this be a greener alternative, as I could stop along my way home instead of having to make a special trip-driving 25 minutes-to get to the farmer's market, but it appeared to have a much wider variety of produce and I could stop in every day if I wanted to. I walked in and immediately was excited! Everything looked fresh, as opposed to some of the farmers market items which looked like it had been picked over a week ago sometimes. As I was shopping, the owner was bringing in bushels of freshly picked items and adding them to the stock out front. I decided to give the corn, potatoes and tomatoes a try. I got home and managed to work all three into dinner that night. The family agreed that these three items tasted better than any of the items which I had picked up at the farmer's market for the past two months! The decision was easy to switch over to the farm stand. Not only was it clean, the people very friendly-and loving the reusable bags (in fact if you didn't have reusable bags you could purchase one of theirs for a minimal charge), and very reasonably priced-everything was fresh!

Now its time for your thoughts! Do you prefer to shop at farmer's markets or farm stands? Do you have a favorite-share it here in the comments box!

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