Farmers Market Produce: Local vs. Organic

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Faster than you can say “kale salad,” it seems like yet another farmers market pops up. In fact, there are more than 8,680 registered in the USDA’s Farmers Market Directory.

It’s easy to understand why they’re popular: fresh, local produce, plus a chance to meet the farmers who grow your food—in a fun, festive atmosphere.

But you may also be a bit confused by what they offer. Why is there so much hype about buying local food? Does the term mean the produce is organic? And should you care? Here’s the rundown.

Local Doesn’t Guarantee Organic But …

As you’re choosing fruits and veggies, be aware that “local” isn’t synonymous with “organic.”

“In order to call your produce organic, you have to be certified by the USDA,” explains Joe Masabni, Ph.D., a vegetable specialist at the Texas A & M Research & Extension Center in Overton. “There is paperwork to fill out, processes to follow, and you have to be approved.”

When you buy certified organic produce, you’ll know, for example, that the growers avoided synthetic pesticides and that their farming methods are sustainable and better for the environment. (See more about what the USDA permits on organic food products.)

But while not every farmer at your local market will bother with the formalities of certification, they may still follow some or all of the USDA’s organic guidelines.

“I’ve seen farmers who post signs saying ‘as organic as I can be’ or ‘following organic practices,’” Masabni says. And because the people selling the food are often the same ones who grew it, you can also ask them directly about their farming methods—whether, say, they used synthetic pesticides.  

The Benefits of Buying Local Produce

Even if the produce at your farmers market isn’t organic, there are many advantages to buying what’s grown in your area (although there’s no agreed-upon distance limit for constitutes…

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