Nowadays, you can find one or more certified farmers markets in nearly every town nationwide. Farmers markets are gaining a lot of popularity across the country, and you should reap the benefits of these local markets if you want to be prepared now and for the future.
At a farmers market, people will be selling you their fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, honey, and various other products. Certified farmers markets need to follow the rules of the government that provides the certification.
This means that the ones selling you various products are the farmers themselves and their employees, but it also means that the middlemen are not allowed to buy from such markets and resell to the public in certified farmers markets.
To put it simply, local farmers have a place to sell their products, and it’s a good opportunity for you to get to know your local farmers. Since food is and will remain a major concern for our survival, such places can become a profitable source for getting provisions, but also a learning center where you can acquire knowledge to grow your own garden, raise small livestock, and so on.
What are farmers markets, and how can you participate in one?
Farmers markets are conducted under the patronage of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and they need to follow certain guidelines. These guidelines have evolved over time as farmers markets become more and more popular. States and local governments have regulations and guidelines that must be followed by all those who wish to sell their produce at such markets.
You can’t show up at a farmers market with a truck full of apple crates and go to the manager of the market and say that you’re a farmer and you want to sell your produce there.
Any farmer that wants to participate in a farmers market needs to first contact the local agent of the Agriculture Department and request an inspection. This means that a government official will come and inspect your farm, backyard land, or leased land where you are growing the produce you intend to sell at farmers markets. After a careful inspection, they will issue a certificate listing each item that you grow.
Keep in mind that if you are growing something that it’s not in season when the inspector comes, you will not be issued a certification for that item. You will have to call them back when they can do a proper physical inspection.
Once you get the certification, you will need to contact the manager of each of the farmers markets at which you wish to sell. You will gain access to these markets based on the will and reasoning of the individual market manager. The farmers will typically pay a percentage of their gross sales to the market if they want to do business there.
In theory, this means that any product you buy at farmers markets is relatively local since it’s convenient for a certified farmer to sell there rather than shipping produce across the country. In theory, you can probably visit the farms and build connections with your local farmers (more on this later).
Is it organic or not?
When it comes to farmers markets, there is a common misconception that everything sold there is organic and GMO-free. In fact, many products are, but overall, organic farms are quite a small percentage of the total farms selling their produce at your local farmers market.
Also, since the government has legally classified “organic” products and is now defining what it means and how products should be grown, a lot of farmers are not willing to pay or are unable to cover the costs of becoming organic growers.
As a quick example, if a farmer wants to have his farm certified as organic, the licensing fee can be $10,000 or more, along with other annual fees. So, for smaller farms, this is a bit too much to pay, and they will tell you how they grow the produce and how qualitative it is, regardless if it’s organic or not.
How about the costs, is everything cheap?
One misconception that is constantly perpetuated about farmers markets is that they are cheap. Some might be, but in general, the cost of the produce is usually on par with wherever else you shop for your produce. In some cases, the cost is even higher than you are used to paying at your grocery store.
In fact, most people do not go to farmers markets for the cost of the products but for the quality of the available produce. While, in theory, products should be cheaper at farmers markets, that’s not always the case, and you should never condemn farmers for asking for a fair price. Most of them are small producers, and many of them have enough trouble just making ends meet.
Is it local, though?
Everyone will tell you that the product you are buying at farmers markets is local. But what does that actually mean?
There actually isn’t any definition for “local,” and it is not uncommon for a farmer to drive 200 miles or more to densely populated areas to sell their products. In fact, a lot of farmers will travel to farmers markets that are not “local” and will go where there are more people, which means greater potential sales for them.
For example, my sister lives in Los Angeles, and it is obvious that there are no significant farms in town. Yet, she always goes to farmers markets to buy fresh, qualitative produce for her kids. In this case, since there are no farms in Los Angeles, the farmers from which she buys various products come from the surrounding counties, more precisely Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino.
If you pay attention, you will actually discover what local means for the attendees at farmers markets. Each farmer must display their certificate in the booth where they sell their produce. Not only will it state the products, but it will also show you the county of origin of their products.
How farmers markets can help you prepare for emergencies
Going to the farmers markets not only allows you to buy qualitative products but also helps you develop some relationships with the farmers at the market if you are a regular client. Soon enough, you will learn their names and where their farms are located.
Now let’s say you are preparing for economic distress, war, or another conflict, in such cases, it pays to have connections like local farmers since they are in the best position to survive such times. They have land, and they are already growing food. Due to various reasons, they might not be able to keep their regular schedule and drive to markets when things go south. When that happens, you can go directly to the source to buy the products you need.
The benefits of buying in bulk
Most of the farmers you meet will happily give you a discount if you offer to buy an entire box of tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, etc. Learn what they are asking for a pound of produce, do some quick math, and offer a reasonable discount. Most will happily sell you at a lower price since, with only one purchase, they can sell a lot of produce.
Those that won’t offer a discount are usually the ones selling products that they know will sell no matter how much they have to wait or how many customers they will have to deal with. However, this depends on the timing, the produce they are selling, and ultimately, your relationship with that farmer.
When I go to farmers markets, depending on what I need to buy, I always ask for discounts when I’m buying in bulk. It never hurts to ask, but do so respectfully.
One thing you can do to get a better price at farmers markets is to build a buying club, so the more people you have in your group, the more products you will buy. Farmers will give you a discount if you buy in large quantities.
So, make a list of what everyone in your club wants, go to the market and buy the produce, pass out everyone’s share and then collect the money. You can even sell the produce to the other members at an increased price, but not to make a profit and just to cover your cost of gas.
The early bird gets the worm
If you build a relationship with your local farmers, you will learn about their schedules and find out what their schedules are for each of the farmers markets they are going to. Most of these farmers will arrive at least 1-2 hours earlier than the official opening hours of the market. In most cases, you should be able to buy the products early, and you will also get the freshest food.
Also, since some farmers may stay in a given area for more than a day and you getting there early and buying in bulk not only helps you get a better deal, but you will also make sure you get the fresh produce. Some farmers may have well-insulated trucks, but even so, you don’t want to buy products after they have been in the sun for 2-3 days.
How about buying old and discounted produce?
Looks sell, and the same goes when it comes to produce at farmers markets. A lot of farmers will discard produce that is bruised, cut, or damaged in some way. They take this produce back to the farm and turn it into compost or use it to feed their animals. Some farmers will give away such products to charities and local organizations that prepare meals for the poor.
If you want to try and find a use for such products and food that is not visually appealing to some, by all means, go for it. Approach the farmers at the closing time of the market and ask for damaged or otherwise unsalable produce. When they are packing their truck to go home, they will happily get rid of that extra weight. Some may even give you the products for free.
Buying for seeds
Farmers markets are good locations to get seeds for your own garden since many of the fruits and vegetables sold at such markets are grown from open-pollinated (heirloom) seeds. If you buy these products, you can save the seeds and grow the same varieties in your garden.
I’ve taken varieties of heirloom tomatoes my family eats, saved the seeds, and planted them in my garden. I’ve also grown pepper, potatoes, and watermelon thanks to farmers markets.
And if you’re in luck, you may find seed sellers or collectors at your local farmers market that are willing to sell you the seeds they are saving or exchange them for some of your seeds.
Besides getting fresh produce that you can store in your cellar or use to prepare long-lasting foods, the local farmers market can also provide other products and services. At many farmers markets, you can buy prepared food and serve lunch or dinner on the spot. These are perfect opportunities to get to know your local farmers and develop connections.
You can even find a wide variety of services offered at farmers markets, from knife sharpening to embroidery. Besides services, you can also find various crafts being sold; and I actually bought a handmade hat the last time I was at a farmers market. Also, my wife loves the various handmade soaps she often finds at our local market.
The overall benefit of attending and shopping at the local farmers market is the opportunity to meet your neighbors and local farmers. You will build connections, and you will learn what’s going on in your area, all while buying fresh products that you can use for your long-term prepping plans or other, more immediate needs.
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