Sad but true, just as there is no Santa Claus, I can assure you that any tomatoes on sale now at the Lansing City Market were NOT locally grown.
One commenter suggested they were raised in a local hothouse. But the cost of heating a greenhouse in Michigan at today’s fuel prices makes that commercially infeasible. Even those new passive solar greenhouses called hoophouses merely extend the season a few weeks on each end of the growing season for warm-weather vegetables. So there are no ripe hoophouse tomatoes in Michigan available yet, and it is virtually certain that any tomatoes for sale in Michigan now came from Florida, California or even from Mexico or another international source.
How can that be? Isn’t the new downtown market a farmers’ market? And doesn’t that mean that all the produce sold there is raised by the farmer who is standing behind the counter?
The answers are: No, and not necessarily.
First, the Lansing City Market is a City market, not a Farmers’ Market. That isn’t a bad thing, but it means that the market’s mission goes beyond just providing produce, and there is no guarantee the agricultural produce on sale was locally produced. If local matters to you, you should ask each vendor before making your purchase.
What about all the other farmers’ markets in the area? Each has its own rules, and the rules vary. Even the venerable Meridian Farmers Market in Okemos still has a few vendors who sell fruits and vegetables that they do not raise themselves. A few even sell fruits and veggies purchased from wholesales whose produce comes from out-of-state or out-of-country. The good news is that many farm markets are getting the message about local and now require that new vendors must sell only the produce they raise themselves, though some farm markets allow existing vendors to be “grandfathered in” under the old rules.
To learn more, please read the article and watch the video below produced last year by Michigan State University journalism student Alisha Green for Sustainable Farmer (for which I am the publisher and therefore reproduced with permission).
Educating consumers about farm market terms
by Alisha Green
Organic? Sustainable? What does it all mean?
Organic. Sustainably grown. Ecological. Biologically intensive. What’s the difference? The most important thing to understand with all of these similar terms is that organic is the one certified by the USDA, but it’s not what all vendors feel is necessary to be environmentally friendly. Vendors at the Meridian Farm Market in Michigan share their thoughts on what these labels mean and which questions customers should be asking to find out how their food was grown.
Put a Label On It
Some people go to farm markets expecting vendors to be the growers of all the food on their tables, but that expectation does not always match what is really going on. Though some farm markets do restrict goods to those grown directly by the vendor, many markets have a variety of food that falls into the three categories of home grown, farm direct, or wholesale. These labels relate to the level of knowledge a vendor has about what they are selling and the traceability and accountability for the safety and quality of the food. The labels can be generally defined this way:
- Home grown means the vendor grew the food themselves.
- Farm direct implies the vendor knows the farmer who grew the food, has direct contact with them, and therefor has access to information about how the food was grown.
- Wholesale food was bought in bulk, often at an auction or other large supplier, and is the most difficult to trace to the place of origin, much less traceable as to how it was grown.
Three vendors at the Meridian Farm Market in Michigan discuss the policy of labeling foods with these three categories, how it helps customers, and what customers can do to make sure they’re buying the type of food they really want.
Alisha Greena is an Honors College student at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism. She has spent the past 18 months researching various national and international food cultures, with the goal of helping sustainable farmers understand these important niche markets.