Editorial: Farmers markets — our direct link to consumers

Everywhere we go we’re bombarded with “Buy Local!” signs and advertisements, and while this entices us to purchase more from local producers and vendors, it actually makes consumers understand less about the food they’re eating. There are so many slogans and advertising campaigns, that many customers don’t know what they are really shopping for. When they see labels that include words such as “all natural, pasture-raised, no hormone, nitrate free and organic,” they forget to read the small print. They don’t realize they aren’t really buying what they think they are buying. For this reason, I think farmers markets are vital to the success of the agriculture industry and the connection they bring between consumer and their food through communication.

According to the USDA, people have increased their spending in local markets and buy locally from farmers and producers in their area. There has even been a word created to describe the people who follow this local food-obsessed trend: locavore. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a “locavore” is described as “one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.” Proving that the local food movement is relatively new, this word was first officially introduced in 2005. This local trend has been good for small businesses and producers. For many customers, their contact with their local farmer is the only contact they have with agriculture and the methods that are used in the industry.

According to the USDA Marketing Services Division, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has doubled since 2006. The rapid growth of farmers markets has been a result of many factors, the largest of those being the consumer push for more local food.

For Gene and Linda Langford of Crooked Lane Farms, Wellsville, Missouri, farmers markets are a way to sell their garden produce and pasture-raised pork and beef. They first started selling at the local market in Mexico, Missouri, but soon started selling in St. Louis. They now regularly sell their products at the Lake St. Louis Farmers Market every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

“It’s something that I have enjoyed,” Gene said. “I used to farm, but Linda told me if I couldn’t farm maybe I could garden. She told me I’d still be playing in the dirt.”

In recent years, the local food movement has spiked leading to the development of companies such as the Green BEAN Delivery Company (Biodynamic, Education, Agriculture, Nutrition) that deliver fresh produce and meat to customers’ homes in the St. Louis area from 13 different vendors.

There has been a surge in all-natural products and the new paleo diet trend, which is a diet consisting of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. It excludes dairy, grain and processed food.

Consumers’ interests in changing their diets have made them concerned about where their food comes from. This gives individuals in the agriculture industry the opportunity to communicate with customers about the industry and their farming practices. Farmers market vendors are the individuals on the front lines sharing their stories and spreading the word about agriculture. However, producers need to be sure that consumers are receiving accurate and not misleading information about the products they are buying. Customers need a realistic picture of how production agriculture truly works in order for them to be informed consumers.

Many meat products are sold with a “no added hormones” label attached. As the USDA Agriculture Marketing website explains, federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids to be given to poultry, pork or goats. Adding this label is misleading to consumers who most likely don’t know that it is not permitted to begin with.

A study on nitrates, a type of salt, done by the Cancer Research Society of Hawaii led to consumer confusion after they announced links between nitrates and cancer risk. This study has since been discredited in a scientific peer review and by another study done by the U.S. National Toxicology Program. However, the scare is still out there and gaining momentum in the consumer base. Its biggest effect has been on cured bacon, and it has since created a niche market for uncured and no nitrate-added bacon.

“It may surprise you to learn that the vast majority of nitrate exposure comes not from food, but from endogenous sources within the body,” said Chris Kresser, global leader and researcher in paleo nutrition and functional medicine, in his article The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth: Another Reason not to Fear Bacon. “There is no reason to buy nitrate-free, uncured bacon and no reason to strictly avoid cured meats.”

With all of these scares and myths, it can be hard for consumers to find the facts. I believe that for all vendors, honesty is always the best policy. For the Langfords, it’s important to them to produce the best and most natural products possible.

“It’s been rewarding to bring a product from our hard work,” Gene said. “It gives you a feeling of pride.”

To find more information on food myths and misrepresentations visit Eating Well and the USDA for information about organic and other labels.

Lindsey Robinson

About the Author Lindsey Robinson

Agriculture began to influence me long before my first steps were taken or my first words were spoken. I come from a small, farming community in rural Missouri, and I can’t imagine loving any place more. Growing up on my family’s show pig operation has given me numerous opportunities and led me to the Science and Agricultural Journalism Program. With this major, I cannot only continue writing, but also pursue an emphasis in Animal Science, combining my two loves of livestock and writing. Never writing for a news publication before, I am excited to be a part of the CAFNR Corner Post team. With new experiences, come new possibilities and I am anxious to push my abilities as a writer to new arenas.