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Farmers Market Economy

OPB | June 7, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:26 p.m.

As the weather gets warmer and the rain (hopefully) lets up, Oregonians are doing more food shopping outdoors at their local farmers’ markets. But how local is the food? Many farmers sell their own crops along with those grown by others. This practice is condoned by some markets, with some guidelines about clear labeling. The rules vary, but many markets require that a certain percentage of a vendor’s wares be fruits and vegetables they grew themselves. Some go so far as to say that everything a seller brings must be homegrown. One farmer we spoke with said he’s disappointed that many of his fellow merchants don’t follow the rules when it comes to selling food they haven’t grown. He’s gone so far as to stop selling wholesale altogether in order to keep from competing with his own harvest at the market.

Another concern to many vendors is the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is working its way through Congress. (We talked about this last December, when there were still many specifics to be worked out.)

Small farmers are worried that new regulations will be too onerous for small operations, and may significantly reduce their profits. Others argue that small farmers’ crops are just as susceptible to disease as those grown by large producers, and should be regulated in the same way.

Do you shop at farmers markets? What questions do you ask producers about the food they’re selling?

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