Buying artisan foods at the farmers market
There's a new breed of vendor showing up around the farmers market. No, they're not some New Age farmer and they may not grow anything themselves, but that doesn't mean they don't love food. In fact, this new breed of seller is oftentimes at the forefront of many culinary trends. Who are these people? They're artisan food sellers and they have quietly been changing many a shoppers' farmers market experience.
Despite their humble origins, farmers markets have always been a type of food celebration. From the time farmers markets started, they were a community place where folks could come together around food. This is why it's so natural for artisan food makers (cupcakes creators, sausage makers, confectioners, dip designers and other specialty food artists) to make their home at the farmers market.
In fact, many of the best known markets in the world are almost always as well known for their specialty shops as they are for fresh produce. While most people enjoy these specialty foods, their presence at the local farmers market does present some potential issues that should be addressed before buying them. Here are a few things to consider:
Are the foods really artisan?
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when buying artisan food at a farmers market is whether the foods are actually artisan. There is a wave of pre-made pastas and dips that are sold by farmers market vendors across the U.S. There's nothing wrong with these products, per se, but they may not be anything more than mass-produced items that someone is reselling. There's no judgment on anyone who goes and buys these items, it's just that they may be passed off as more gourmet (with the associated price tag) than they would be if sold at the store with a less fancy brand name.
Why do you go to the farmers market?
It may sound strange, but before you buy artisan foods of any variety, it doesn't hurt to consider why you go to the farmers market. Is it to support local farmers? Help local business people? Reduce your environmental impact by eating local? Do you just like the vibe? Whatever the reason, there is a chance that the artisan foods at your farmers market go against one (or more) of these ideas.
The food might not be local. The seller might not be a local business and probably won't be a farmer, etc. On the flip side, there are a number of local farmers and business people who do make local artisan products -- but it may be important for you to know which is which.
Do their makers follow food practices that are important to you?
Ultimately, this is the question that may decide whether you buy or not. One of the advantages of the farmers market is getting to know the people who make your food. You should be able to find out the same things about the artisan food makers who craft their products. If they do things you don't like, don't buy from them. It's that simple.
Of course, with these caveats, there are plenty of great artisan vendors out there producing local, all-natural, pesticide-free, hormone-free products (or whatever your desired food practices are) with passion and drive. It's just important to note that not all artisan products are created equal, and just like that produce being sold in the market, it doesn't hurt to find out a little more before you buy.