Today is the official start of summer here in my hometown of Concord, New Hampshire, with the opening of the Concord Farmers Market. I enjoyed a satisfying hour or so of shopping and chatting, and was left pondering the complexity of choices consumers are faced with in considering where food came from and how it was produced.
Concord Farmers Market Opens for Summer
Heavy thunderstorms caused a little trouble for vendors setting up early this morning but, just about the time the market opened, the sun broke through. Sunshine prevailed for most of the morning, and area shoppers responded by turning out in droves.
This is a lively market, with live music and a good mix of produce and products for sale. I found:
- plenty of spring vegetables (even dandelion greens);
- perennials and vegetable seedlings;
- dog treats;
- baked goods;
- locally-raised meats;
- fresh eggs;
- composting worms;
- local wine; and
- jams and jellies
I connected with market organizers while I was there and hope to post a complete vendor list on this site before next Saturday, so check back for that list. The market is open every Saturday, from 8:30 to noon, and takes place next to the State House on Capitol Street. Plan to swing by before starting your weekly grocery shopping.
The Concord Farmers Market, like many, is a gathering spot for local dog lovers. Curious dogs are rewarded with a treat or two when they poke their noses into the Mrs. Beasley’s Gourmet Dog Treats tent, where nutrient-rich, handcrafted treats are available in an endless variety of flavors, shapes and sizes. It’s the first thing my dogs look for when I return from the market, and they’re never disappointed. Today, I brought home crispy lamb liver treats. The customers were satisfied. (Even the Westie, who’s too shy of cameras to make an appearance here.)
Local, Organic or Sustainable: Are the Choices Clear?
It’s gratifying to see the steadily increasing interest in good, local food throughout New Hampshire. Along with a desire to buy fresh, locally grown and produced food, people are giving more thought to how that food is produced as well. At recent farmers markets, I’ve overheard many conversations between farmers and shoppers about whether or not certain products (like the perfectly ripe strawberries I purchased from Apple Hill Farm) were organic.
Organic food is wonderful, and choosing organic is a good first step in knowing that we’re buying nutritious food, free of chemicals. But it’s not the whole picture.
There’s so much education that needs to be done on this issue. Overhearing various responses to that question, the farms that choose a non-organic route sometimes have very compelling arguments for doing so. Whether it’s to lightly spray a pesticide or fungicide at a particularly vulnerable point in a crop’s development, or simply choosing not to participate in the cumbersome requirements to become a certified organic producer, these farmers are making thoughtful choices.
Unfortunately, in some cases, only the customers who ask are hearing the depth of the farmers’ decisions.
It strikes me that many consumers aren’t there yet with the distinctions among these choices; it’s all too easy to adopt an all-good/all-bad approach. After all, we’re so often looking for simple rules to guide our choices, and certified organic has provided that for us.
Now come choices like “sustainable” and “organic methods.” Add to those the option of buying local, or not, and weighing the benefits of each can become confusing. What’s most important. What’s bad or good, anyway?
What’s the solution? I offer two ideas, one for consumers and one for farmers and producers.
Consumers should ask questions; by asking and being sincerely open to understanding the farmer’s or producer’s choices, we’ll learn and then be able to make more informed choices ourselves.
Farmers and producers could greatly improve their own communication on this issue by creating simple, informative signs for their booths, explaining their philosophy, whatever it is. If they have a website, they should post information there.
Maggie Mae Farm in Belmont has a detailed mission statement on its website, and a blog post with an even more detailed description of the farm’s philosophy regarding sustainability and organic practices. Find Maggie Mae at the Canterbury Community Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings (4 to 7 p.m). and at the Laconia Farmers Market on Thursday evenings (3 to 7 p.m.).
With more and more consumers looking for answers to these questions, proactively providing the information would create transparency and credibility for farmers and producers, no matter what their choices.
I believe there’s room for all philosophies. It’s just so great to see the proliferation of vendors at all the local farmers markets and the positive response from consumers, hungry to purchase locally grown and produced food. Adding a little information to the mix can only make a good thing better.
I was recently stumped by the question, “How would you prioritize ‘sustainable,’ ‘organic’ and ‘local’ in making your food purchasing choices?”
How would you answer that question, and why? Is there one, clear answer for you?