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To the farmers market you go

Joe Beasley

According to Ben Vitale, the secret to successfully shopping at a farmers market comes down to one simple statement: “Know your farmer, know your food.”

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Ben Vitale.

This week the hosts of “Take Care” interview Ben Vitale, the president of the National Association of Produce Market Managers. Vitale is also the executive director of the Central New York Regional Market Authority, which features a weekly farmers market in Syracuse all year round.

Vitale says that farmers markets can provide a great opportunity to the consumer. Farmers marketsare run all over New York state and can provide local produce that is often picked just hours, not days, before being sold, as well as providing a large variety of food of good quality. They also provide consumers a chance to get to know the farmers who sell the food.

Farmers markets not only provide the classic array of farm produce, but other products  -- such as honeys, jams, jellies, meat and eggs. Vitale says the best way to know you’re getting the best food is to simply talk to the farmer.

“Ask them how they are growing it and what processes they are using. If they can’t answer those questions, there is a good possibility they aren’t the ones growing it,” he said.

One source of confusion about farmers markets is whether the products for sale are organic. Vitale says that’s because everyone has their own idea of what “organic” really means. Because of this vague definition, many people claim they are selling organic foods for different reasons. According to Vitale, “the real thing about ‘organic’ is that it has nothing that is synthetically made that’s applied to it or fertilized with.” Vitale also says vendors who have a U.S. Department of Agriculture organic designation should be able to show that certification to consumers.

Vitale has two “insider tips” he gives to farmers market shoppers in order for them to have the best possible experience:

The first tip is for first-time shoppers. “Travel through the whole market, look what’s available before you start buying.” This will allow the shopper to see the different quality in items as well as the variety of items being sold, allowing them to make informed decisions.

The second tip is for returning shoppers. Once you find a product you like and start buying on a regular basis, “Patronize those farmers or growers or dealers.”

Vitale’s says doing so will add to the social significance of food. “That’s what food is, it’s about building relationships --When you’re having people over for dinner, and you’re cooking together, and doing things --it’s so much more than just the nutrition, it’s about socializing and building relationships. So that’s really important in a farmers market.”