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by communications intern Becca Stanger

When I began deliberately shopping for groceries almost exclusively at my local farmers market, I took great pride in my decision.  I imagined myself gracefully floating from stand to stand in culinary-goddess-like fashion, smelling Mark’s last harvest of peaches, discussing recent earworm woes with Linda, and praising the freshness of the chicken I bought from Dean last week.  Unfortunately, though, my reality doesn’t typically align with this dream.  Instead, I usually jostle my way through a horde of strollers and bicycles to buy a variety of apples I know nothing about from the next available nameless cashier.

Hoping to shorten this gap between dream and reality, I set out this past weekend to get to know my producers and their food.  With the help of a blog posting or two and SustainableTable.org, I found a slew of useful questions to help me become better acquainted with my producers and their goods.  Questions like…

When was this fruit picked?
Where is your farm located?
How do I cook this vegetable?
Is your farm organically certified?, OR, Do you grow crops organically? (While many farms grow crops organically, not all of them are USDA certified due to financial constraints or personal objections)
Did these eggs come from a hen that was caged?
What was the turkey fed?
Was the hog ever given antibiotics?
Was the cow finished on a feedlot?

In the flurry of the Saturday market, I managed to quickly and politely ask the sellers one or two of these questions before stepping aside for the next customer.  Their answers were enlightening.  While one of the meat stands boasted of honorably humane practices, its distant location challenged the classification of “local.Ԡ And while one of the farmers scoffed at my question about organic practices, another apologetically informed me their farm was not organically certified and kindly pointed me in the direction of one that was.

Certainly none of the producers or goods was perfect.  I did not find Joel Salatin selling a bountiful spread of hand-slaughtered chickens.  But I did find some products I felt good about eating.  I did find some producers I could talk to.  And I did find a food system I took pride in supporting.  With a commitment to repeating conversations like these, hopefully I may begin to build relationships with my producers and become the idyllic farmers’ market connoisseur I dream ofŠ who perhaps still manages to ungracefully stumble over a stroller or two.