Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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How to Shop at a Farmers Market

I made a comment the other day about shopping at farmers markets and helping support the local economy.  A person stopped me to complain about “Hucksters,” my word, not hers, and how you cannot be sure you are getting locally grown food.  Making sure not to offend the person I carefully explained that yes, there are some unscrupulous characters at farmers markets, but by asking a few questions and arming yourself with basic information, you could ferret out the poser from the farmer.

I could tell they were upset by past purchases but to damn all farmers markets was wrong and I explained people like them could actually help those of us that feel the same way.  Yes, I acknowledged there were some farmers markets that allowed anything but the markets we established and participated in were “Producer Only,” markets.  I explained that a “producers only,” market is a market that has vendors that sell what they produce.  They range from just fruits, vegetables and meats, to anything the person makes, breads, jams, paintings, photographs, jewelry whatever, as long as the person made the product being sold.

I turned the tables as subtly as possible, “you know,” I said, “it is Caveat Emptor when you go to an unfamiliar farmers market but you can quickly find out if it is a producers only market".  I explained that first and for most know what is in season in your area, if a farmer is selling corn in Maryland before July, he or she is a huckster.  If the fruit or vegetable is in season, ask the farmer what is the name of the product.  If corn they should be able to tell if it is Sugar Pearl, Fisher’s, open pollinated or hybrid or some other characteristic, ask how many days to maturity (DTM).  DTM on corn is typically between 75-95 days.  Here is a great web site that tells you when fruit and vegetables are in season in your area. 

The vendor should be able to give you the name of every vegetable they are selling, the days to maturity, when it was harvested, how long it will last in the refrigerator, is it a heritage or heirloom breed and when it was actually established.  Fisher’s yellow corn was developed in Montana, in the 1960’s by a man name Ken Fisher.  He kept selecting corn that had a short growing season and could withstand cold snaps in his state.  That I know of every fruit and vegetable has a traceable lineage and the farmer who ordered and planted that seed will know these details. If they say they are organic, ask to see their certification. They have to have it with them at all times and they will be proud to show it to you.  If you get an excuse consider them non-organic.

As consumers, we just need to ask questions and follow our gut.  If you start to get a feeling, the person is being dishonest or they cannot answer a simple question like what is the name, then they are hucksters.  All but one market we have participated in has been producers only.  As growers, we know who is growing and who is not.  Those that do not grow only bring down those who do and we are quick to question the origin of the products.  We do this precisely because of the comment I heard and the reality that there are unscrupulous vendors.  

Buy Local: And support non-gmo producers,

 

 
 

Producer's Only Farmer's Market

This is the first year and time that we have created a farmer’s market.  "We," are four producers who met each other last year at a Farmer's Market run by a profiteer.  The market board consists of one fruit grower, two vegetable people, one baker and a beef person.  We added a fifth producer in order to avoid ties when voting on issues, procedures and so forth.

Born out of frustration and our mistreatment at the benefit of the first market owner, our market took shape.  As I said, the peasant farmers rose up against the wealthy landowner and started our own market on public property.  For being the first year of the market, we have done some remarkable things.  In our State, it usually takes two years to get a Farmer’s Market certified by our Department of Agriculture.  Because of our diligence, organizational structure, consistency and promotion the market was granted certified status as of August 16.  All of us that organized this market are thrilled, not only does it allow us to accept Women, Infant and Children (WIC) coupons but senior coupons as well.  It is a coveted prize because the State markets and advertises certified farmer's markets in all of its publications and we are allowed to submit grant proposals and marketing proposals for funding requests

This journey has not been without some bumpy spots, bad feelings and controversy.  When our small group setout finding a place for the new market, we also discussed being a producers only market and what that meant.  Knowing what we all were growing and how some of us are still getting various fruit trees going we would not be able to meet all the needs of the buying public.  As a board, we decided to allow vendors to bring in local fruits and vegetables sourced by local farms in the area.  As long as local farmers supplied those fruits and vegetables brought in, it was allowed.  Meaning someone could bring peaches, apples and other things that take years too establish on your farm, from local farms already established.  The caveat was that the public would be notified and you had to source the food by farm name and contact.  All we wanted was a sign that said these peaches came from X local orchard or farm.

What we started getting was vendors going to vegetable and fruit auctions and bringing them in and selling them at reduced prices, the infamous Huckster that I have mentioned before.  When you have a growing year like we have had in Western Maryland it tries your patience, resolve, energy, financial stability, sanity and confidence.  We had infestations of the Marmarated Stink Bug and the Rough Stink Bug.  We had the greatest number of days over 95 degrees, the longest periods of no rain and some of the warmest temperatures at night that one can not help but question the validity of anti-global warming arguments.

We have been growing tomatoes and peppers organically for twenty-two years.  In all that time, we have never faced what we have this year with the bugs, blossom end rot and just plain looks of the tomatoes.  We planted four varieties totaling one hundred and twenty plants.  We have had four customers for the last five years that have bought bushels of Roma’s for canning.  We had to call them and tell them that we would not be able to fill their orders.  We pointed them elsewhere but I do not think the people we sent them to have had any better success.

So, it has been a hard growing season, even the big organic people in our area were having problems but, that is farming.  Some years are good, some are bad and then some are very bad.  We all take that risk going into this business.  I have said it before, I heard once that there is no mercy on a farm; I think that there is there is just no mercy for the farmer.

Week after week, we go to the market with the things that have survived the onslaught of nature and try to put on a good face, despite our dismay.  When you look across the isle and you see that there are hucksters passing themselves and there wares off as a local farmer a primal instinct emerges from within me and I find that my wife is talking me back off of the nuclear reaction I am about to have.  The WIC program specifically states that you can only accept WIC for what you produce, period, yet the same hucksters do not follow that regulation either.  Okay, I am Polly-Anna but integrity is part of the program. 

We want this to be a producer’s only market because the community deserves to have fresh, healthy, safe, locally sourced food.  That is how the market is advertised and that is how the by-laws were written.  We are addressing the situation and we will take care of the hucksters.  There are plenty of farmer's markets to attend if you are a huckster, not all of the markets are certified and most are not "producers only".  It is really too late in the season now but next year the hammer is coming down on those that do not meet the standards that the rest of us locals hold ourselves to.

In the mean time, we continue to encourage each other, discuss the latest news on stink bugs, irrigation techniques and other issues we face as producers.  The market foot traffic has increased, our landlord, if you will, has requested that we commit to a long term agreement, coupled that with certified status and we really have nothing to complain about.   

Buy Local: If the fruit and vegetables look too perfect then chances are you are dealing with a huckster or are in a grocery store.

 

 
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Farmers' Markets Run By Profiteers

Please allow me to vent.  We participated in three farmers markets last year and in one we dealt with a market owner that was a complete moron, oh wait that was just a thought.   

We had a market owner last year that just didn't get it.  They demanded cash from vendors, refused to give receipts for IRS purposes and arbitrarily changed rules in the middle of the market season to suit their own agenda and cash flow needs.  They even got a grant from the County to promote this market but that wasn't enough.

Okay, so I'm Polly-Anna but when you try to grow vegetables and fruits for a living to have to deal with someone like this just takes the wind out of your sails.   At first we thought they were new and this was the first year having a market.  They do have a good location and we have been waiting for a market to open in this area.

When we called they said farmers are free.  Great we thought.  Then August rolled around and they came up to us demanding ten dollars cash.  I said they told us farmers were free.  The answer was "no, that was just for July".  When my wife talked to them on the phone it was "farmers are free", not farmers are free for July.  They saw how good things were going and wanted to get in on the action.

Ten dollars wasn't a big deal as much as the demand for cash and the refusal to give receipts.  Add to that the B.S. excuses they gave us for not giving receipts or being unable to take checks.  I swear if my wife wasn't there I probably would have created a scene that wouldn't have been pleasant for anyone.

Besides, I'm always amazed at how my wife, who is a demure, diminutive woman but can slice a person to pieces and make it look clean.  When it comes to dealing with the kind of miscreant that we did she is a shark.  I won't go into details but I had to chuckle at the verbal and no-verbal ques coming from them.  The owner was stepping back away from her and basically blabbing any answer that came to mind.  She was just asking legitimate questions, questions that would have taken me a week to get to.  But she's small and looks like she'd be push over which is a mistake if you try and the owner did try.  It usually takes the person by surprise when my wife goes on the offensive and the next thing they know flop sweat is foarming on their brow and they are wondering how to get away.  I almost felt sorry for them, okay I didn't, I really enjoyed watching them earn the ten dollars.

This year is the winner.  We've been going to farmers markets for over seven seasons.  Never have we had so much trouble combined like we've had in this market.  It’s gotten so bad that a group of us have setup another market down the road just to avoid this market.  The kicker to all of it this year was they wanted to charge a large application fee.  Then it was by invitation only and rent was raised a 100 percent.

Okay, so I am Polly-Anna.  We're in it for the health not the wealth.   So the peasants rose up against the wealthy land owner and we started our own market.  All the money collected, for rent, goes into a central account to be used for advertising and other expenses in the market.  The market is producers only market and people that are using sustainable practises.

The market opened this past weekend and although it was the first day of a new market there seems to be promise.  There was a lot of buzz; the opening was covered in the local paper and signs were posted in the community.  Besides selling local foods, flowers, baked goods and hand made crafts, we will have a pet adoption agency and be donating leftovers to area food pantries.  It’s a group of vendors that are stewards of the land and somewhat community activists.  Farmer’s and artisans’ setting up a market for the community with the community involved.  This feels good, it just feels right.

Buy Local- From a farmer you know and trust.  Their effort is well worth yours.

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