Questions to Ask

We’re thrilled to see the food movement taking hold in our community, and more and more people choosing fresh, local, chemical-free food for their families. When we started on this journey years ago it seemed few folks took us seriously. Now we see the beginnings of a robust and vibrant wave of change–which can revitalize our local economy and our community’s health. That is wonderful.

But unfortunately there are more and more unscrupulous people and companies trying to take advantage of the increasing demand for healthy and ethically-produced food. There are people trying to pass off chemically-produced produce as chemical-free, and trying to pass off imported food as locally-grown. People are getting duped and this threatens to undermine the things we’ve been trying to accomplish.

Here are some ways to help assure that you’re actually getting truly locally-grown chemical-free food.

1. Don’t be fooled by claims of “low spray” or “no spray.” “Low spray” (whatever else it is supposed to mean) still means poisons are being sprayed on the food. And some folks are saying “no spray” because they use only powdered pesticides. If a vendor is making these claims, ask them directly “Do you use any pesticides?” Be especially suspicious if their produce looks perfect and is cheaper than the chemical-free vendors’ produce.

2. Ask the vendor if they grew the food themselves and where their farm is. Some vendors buy produce in bulk from places like Dan Valley Foods and try to pass it off as home-grown. Some buy it from the Amish wholesale market and claim it was grown by “my Amish neighbors.” Someone who buys food from a wholesaler and resells it is a grocer, not a farmer. They cannot vouch for the quality of the food or the production practices, because they did not grow it.

3. When buying meat or eggs, ask the vendor what the animals were fed. We are what we eat and we are what we eat eats. It’s much cheaper to produce eggs and meat raising animals in confinement on GMO grains. Some are making bogus claims about “cage free” chickens or “grass fed” meat. Sometimes they’re just mimicking what they see the truly ethical farmers saying without any appreciation for what those terms mean. Ask them specifically how their animals are raised and what they eat.

4. Ask the vendor what type of fertilizer they use. Ask them if they use Roundup on their farm. Ask them if they put antibiotics in their animals’ feed. Keep in mind that farms are no longer legally allowed to say their produce is “organic” unless they have the USDA organic certification. Most sustainable farms can’t afford the expense and time necessary to get and keep that certification, so we’ve taken to using terms like “chemical-free” instead. Because that term is unregulated, it may not always mean what you think it means.

5. Ask who picked the food. On family farms the food is harvested by the farmers. On industrial farms it isn’t. Did the folks who picked the food love the land it grew on? If that matters to you, ask.

6. Sustainable farmers love what they do and are very happy to talk about their farms and their farming practices. If you ask questions of vendors and they are evasive or vague, be suspicious.

7. If a vendor’s produce is all the same size and color, without any defects or blemishes, and is cheap, then be suspicious. Naturally-grown sustainable food doesn’t look perfect and it isn’t cheap to grow.

The best way to be sure you’re getting the kind of food you want is to get to know the farmers personally. If at all possible you shouldn’t buy food from people you don’t know and trust.

We want the food movement to survive and thrive here. There are now quite a few excellent ethical sustainable chemical-free farms in our community and more coming on board all the time. It is important that our community support those farms. For people who don’t care about the values of sustainable farming, there will always be plenty of options. But for people who do, they deserve to get what they’re expecting and what they’re paying for.

It can be confusing trying to navigate all the competing claims about food these days. If anyone has any questions, we’re happy to try to answer them.