Thursday, June 28, 2007

Growers' Market Rules?

A growers’ market is not the same as a farmers’ market. A vendor can go to a wholesaler to get his truck loaded up with produce from Timbuktu, and bring it to the farmers' market to re-sell. At a growers’ market, all produce for sale must have been grown by the vendor. At the Lake Ella Growers’ Market, vendors are also required to actively disclose to their customers whether their produce was grown using “conventional” or “organic” farming methods. Therefore, the customer knows where his produce comes from and how it is grown. Right?

Seduced by okra and field peas available only from a vendor selling “conventionally” grown produce, I made what I believed to be a weak but informed choice to buy these chemically grown vegetables from the grower. After I’d made my rounds, I sat on a bench to soak in the feel-good atmosphere at the market. Loitering in my usual way, I overheard multiple conversations about the vendor – all participants certain that some of the produce on the table was not in fact grown by the vendor. Tomatoes too homogenously “perfect.” Out-of-season sweet potatoes over-wintered and sold here. An overly diverse array of produce at the table, and so on.

With my heavy bag of corn, okra, and field peas, I felt naive, cheated, uncomfortable, guilty. I’d already made a choice to buy vegetables coaxed into maturity at the expense of their taste, plant diversity, and the environment. And apparently I’d unknowingly supported the vendor who chose to bend the rules by selling perhaps a few “home-grown” items, along with items from unknown origins. Even as I kicked myself, I was glad to witness the joint efforts of the better-informed to protect the integrity of the growers’ market, and concerned about the future of this carefully cultivated treasure.

More than a place to buy vegetables, the growers’ market is a growing community. It is a place where I go to feel safe and confident about my buying choices. It is where I am slowly learning about environmental stewardship and meeting people whose love extends beyond their own nuclei to their neighbors and to future generations, and whose daily habits reflect gratitude and respect for the source of their nourishment – the earth.