How to Identify Farmers Market Fraud

Fruits and vegetables at the farmers market are not cheap, especially early in the season. How do you know you are getting what you paid for and not just repurposed supermarket produce? Here are a few tips to help you identify and support honest local farmers.

Shoppers at a farmers market. Learn how to not fall victim to farmers market fraud

There are numerous benefits to shopping at a farmers market. They provide you with the ability to buy affordable, locally grown products. The fruits and vegetables are fresh, sustainably produced, and bursting with flavor. Unfortunately a real and growing concern that we need to be aware of is farmers market fraud.

Continue reading to learn what farmers market fraud is. By taking just a few simple steps you can help ensure you do not become a victim yourself.

Reports of dishonest vendors taking advantage of the farmers market concept have begun to appear in recent years. For example, vendors have been caught selling items that are not sourced directly from local farms. Instead they purchase produce wholesale or from a grocery store and sell it as their own.

How can you be sure you are truly supporting local farmers? The majority of vendors are honest and truly selling fresh, nutritious and locally grown produce. As they say a few bad apples can spoil the bunch.

Here are a few things you can do.

Be Educated

Here is a great resource I created for the state of Illinois. This series of blog posts helps you learn what produce is in season each month. Consult this before you head out the door and learn what items you should expect to see at that time.

Learning about the seasonality of fruits and vegetables can help alert you that a vendor is being dishonest. If you see produce that is not yet in season, like tomatoes or apples in the spring, that can be a good sign to stay away.

Use Common Sense

Sometimes you may not just encounter out of season items, you may see produce that all together does not belong. Ask yourself “could this grow where I live?”

For example, avocados only grow in warmer weather states. If you see avocados at a farmers market in Illinois, it is likely a sign of a dishonest vendor and you should just move on.

I’m not singling out avocados by any means, I love them. But you should never see tropical fruits at a farmers market in Illinois.

Ask the Farmer

There may be a good reason why an item is available a bit earlier than the typical growing season would suggest. The best part about a farmers market is you can ask. As Michael Pollan says, at a farmers market you can “shake the hand that feeds you.”

When you ask why something not yet in season is available, often times you will find that the farmer can provide a reasonable answer. Perhaps the farmer uses a greenhouse or other related technique. There are ways to accelerate the availability of some warm season items like tomatoes.

Here is a good example from my own experience. Almost every year I see sweet corn available at the end of June at my local farmers market. This is very early in Illinois.

However after asking the farmer, I learned that they plant seeds as early as possible in May. Doing so allows them to both extend the growing season and get ripe corn to market earlier in the year.

Start Your Own Garden

The best way to learn what is currently in season and what can grow where you live is to start a garden at home. Sometimes you may have a hard time getting something started in your garden. Then you head out to the farmers market and find that same item ripe and ready to eat at your local farmers market.

That may be a sign that you should stay away from that vendor. But it is also a great opportunity to have a conversation. Maybe you will learn that the farmer has a greenhouse or another way to get these items to you earlier in the season.

Avoiding Farmers Market Fraud

Ultimately, to avoid farmers market fraud you first have to know that it might exist. Hopefully I have helped you with that today.

Use your common sense. Do not be afraid to ask questions and find vendors you trust. There are a lot of great, hard working farmers out there.

Educate yourself before you head out the door and learn what produce is currently in season. Know what to expect when you get there. If you have a garden at home, compare what is growing in your yard to what is available at the market.

Take advantage of the opportunity to get great tasting, fresh and local produce while it lasts!

Author: Matt Knight RD, LDN

Matt works hard to share his knowledge of nutrition and help empower his clients to take control of their health with food choices that best support their specific health condition. Click here to learn more about Matt.

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