Every weekend across Central Texas, people crowd local farmers markets looking for homegrown fresh produce and meats, but what ends up in those markets may not always be farm fresh.
Carla Jenkins, who runs the Lakeline, Mueller and Domain farmers markets, said she has visited markets where it appears that sellers have purchased items from grocery stores to resell.
"I've been to farmers markets where I've actually picked up a tomato and seen a tag on the bottom of it," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' markets are among several in Central Texas where local farmers must agree to routine inspections before selling. Jenkins inspects the farms herself.
"I feel like it's the responsibility of mine to make sure that what's on the table is what people think they're getting," Jenkins said.
Jenkins snaps pictures, ask questions and documents crops and animal conditions.
"At first it's a little scary," said farmer Alex Bernhardt of Bernhardt Farms in Elgin. "But I have nothing to hide. I want to be transparent. I want her to see what we're doing."
Bernhardt has been farming for five years and said he is always trying to grow different produce. He's one of the first farmers from Central Texas to grow table grapes.
"I know good and well from being out here today exactly what Alex is going to have at the farmers market," said Jenkins.
Jenkins' inspections and the Sustainable Food Center inspections go beyond what the state requires. In fact, according to state rules, someone could buy produce from a warehouse which could get produce from another state, even another country, and sell it at any farmers market.
"If someone wants to go out and do that, they can do that," said Bryan Black, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Agriculture. "That's why we have these TDA certified farmer's market so we do have some sort of regulation over."
In order to receive state certification, 75 percent of the products sold at a farmers market must be Texas grown, but there only need to be two farmers.
What to look for
- Want a market that has been inspected? Search for a USDA State certified farmers market, a sustainable Food Center Market or a producers only market.
- Pay attention to what's in season. If you're seeing strawberries in July, those are not coming from a local farm.
- Ask questions of the people selling. A farmer will be able to answer questions like what is the PH of the soil? Ask the name of the farm. Where do you source your seeds? What varieties are you growing this year?
- Look for boxes that appear to come from a wholesaler, especially if they're sealed.
- Veggies or fruit that have stickers on them.
- Prices that don't reflect the real cost of locally farmed food.
- Lack of other farm goods.
- No dirt on the veggies.
Jenkins has a reputation for being diligent. She has kicked out several farmers, including one who tried to sell green beans early..
"I said, 'When you can take the time to show me the green beans, then you can come back to the market,' and I never heard from him again," Jenkins said.
Farmers like Gerald Cole appreciate the scrutiny.
"That helps make sure the consumer is getting what we tell them they're getting," said Cole.
At a time when what you eat matters, there is added value in being transparent.
To be a certified state farmers market the items must be grown in Texas. Local has a different connotation for many farmers markets. Some limit items within a 200 mile radius, some smaller than that. So if that is a concern for you be sure to ask.
- Information on the Texas Farmers Markets run by Carla Jenkins
- Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets
- Texas Department of Agriculture Certified Farmers Markets
- Dripping Springs Farmers Market is certified by the state and conducts its own inspections outside of what the state requires. All of the items sold there are also grown within a 150-mile radius of the market.
- All the items grown in Texas and when they are in season