03.Are the fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets always fresher?
There’s been an explosion of farmers’ markets, from the very first in Victoria in 1999 to more than 160 across Australia today, according to the Australian Farmers’ Market Association.
True farmers’ markets have growers selling directly to customers their own produce or added-value foods such as jam or cheese that they’ve made, but not necessarily grown, from scratch.
Of all the produce outlets, you probably have the best chance of finding out the provenance of the food at a farmers’ market. The food is likely to be seasonal and picked ripe, and there are often unusual varieties not offered elsewhere.
No national accreditation
However, there is no national accreditation system for farmers’ markets, and each market has different rules about how “local” food has to be – produce isn’t necessarily direct from the farm. You really only have the vendor’s word about freshness, farming methods, how it’s been stored and how far it’s travelled.
And despite the perception that farmers’ markets offer more sustainably farmed produce, unless it is certified organic it may have been grown using the same chemicals as conventionally farmed produce, as we found in our pesticides test where the "pesticide free" grapes bought the farmers' markets were not in fact free of pesticides.
Given the potential profits to be made from premium produce, it can be tempting for stall-holders to back-fill their genuine farm produce with produce they’ve not grown themselves. But Jane Adams from the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association argues other stall-holders are pretty quick to spot irregularities.
To determine authenticity, look for certification information for organic foods and have a chat with the grower. Farmers’ market regulars we spoke to say they use their instinct to pick genuine farmers from traders who are reselling goods from a wholesale market.