Five essential questions to ask the farmers at your local farmers market

I pretty much talk to everybody. My husband Evan has always found it a bit mortifying that I can strike up a conversation in just about any setting and for just about any reason.

The good news is, according to Tara McDonald, executive director of Vancouver Farmer Markets, my instinct to ask people questions fits right into the farmers market philosophy: “Bringing in the farmers so that people can meet them is one of our missions.”

Tara explains that it’s the connection between the farmer and the consumer that makes shopping at a farmers market such a remarkable experience. But she also says we might not be making the most of it.

I’m not the only Vancouverite who loves the Vancouver Farmers Market. Last year, the 200 or so market vendors at the city’s five markets sold us about $4 million in food and products that they either grew, made or baked themselves. This means that the person who sold you that tomato also grew that tomato (unlike when you go to a grocery store or the public market on Granville Island).

This also means that when you buy that tomato you are talking to the perfect person to tell you where the seeds came from, how it was fertilized and if it tastes nicer raw or broiled. So if you care about those things, you should ask.


Five great questions to ask the farmers at the market:


What do I do with this?

Never cooked garlic scapes? Or unsure what that lumpy purple thing is? Ask. Most farmers grow things they like to eat. So this means they have a wealth of ideas about how to use it. (Some, like Klippers Organics Family Farm, even offer recipes on their websites.) So go with an open mind and try something new.

What growing methods do you use?

This should be noted clearly at their stand, but food at a Vancouver Farmers Market ranges from conventionally grown, to integrated pest management, to naturally grown, to organic and even biodynamic. The farmers can explain the differences and tell you why they’ve chosen one method over the others.


What certifications do you have?

Organic certification can be really costly and some farmers who use sustainable practices decide to forgo the certification. Check with those who sell eggs and meat though—even if they are not certified organic they might be able to prove humane treatment of their animals with BCSPCA certification.


Do you offer B-grade produce?

If you’re planning to can or preserve food, check around for less-than-perfect produce at a less-than-premium price.

Do you make special or standing orders?

Want eggs every week? Or have a big party coming up? Many farmers will happily take orders for larger amounts or regular purchases.

Talking to the farmers is one great way to get the most out of the market. Another is to go early, while the selection is best. And Tara also suggests going with an open mind and only a general sense of what you’re after. It’s easier to be enticed to try a lumpy purple thing that way.

Do you have any tips or techniques for getting the best out of our farmers markets? I’ll be doing more on the topic over the next few weeks so feel free to share questions or ideas as well.