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Know your produce! A farmers' market guide

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A pile 'o' rhubarb at the Broad Ripple Farmers Market. - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • A pile 'o' rhubarb at the Broad Ripple Farmers Market.

It's a Saturday morning in June. You sleep in a bit, check the weather and ponder your options for the weekend. The heat is yet bearable, and a good cup of coffee is calling your name - so it seems the best way to start your day is to grab a hat and sandals, tuck a reusable shopping bag under your arm and head to your nearest farmer's market. You've been wanting to eat more locally, and is there a more pleasant way to spend a weekend morning (or weekday lunch) than strolling among the quaint tabletop bounty of central Indiana farms?

Or to try another scenario, perhaps you are much more intentional when it comes to being a locovore. You want your produce both local and sustainably-grown. Chemical-free when possible. The farmer's market is a weekly venture, just another stop on your list of errands. You might even plan your meals around the seasonal produce.

No matter the shoe that fits - if you visit a farmer's market, a few simple questions could go a long way.

1) Did you grow this (or did you make this, in the case of value-added products like prepared foods)?

Think the answer to this question is a given? Think again. Some area markets allow resellers, or vendors who could be selling everything from their next door neighbor's asparagus (she has plenty to spare, but doesn't farm enough to be a vendor herself) - to produce that's purchased at wholesale auction and possibly shipped in from out-of-state (sometimes, the very same provider who supplies your local chain grocery store).

"Unless customers are asking questions, there's the illusion that everything at market is local," said Maria Smietana, former market manager of the Trader's Point Creamery Green Market, and now manager of the new Farm to Fork Market at Normandy Farms. Maria has adopted strict no-reselling policies at both markets she's been affiliated with, requiring vendors to sign affidavits to that effect.

But not all markets adopt this policy, with understandable reasons. From a market manager's perspective, allowing resellers is a way of diversifying offerings at market. For instance, growing berries in Indiana can be challenging for many small farmers, so bringing berries in from larger farms is a good way to provide a broader range of produce.

"We allow limited reselling to provide our customers with a wide variety of local produce - items that would otherwise not be available (or available in sufficient quantities) at our market," explains Barbara Wilder, market manager at the Broad Ripple Farmer's Market. "The best example is strawberries. Berry producers often have a fairly short season, and when their fruit is in season, they are often too busy with U-pick and getting product to their established customers to staff farmers markets."

But when products being resold are purchased at wholesale auction, there's a downside for producer-only vendors: It establishes an unfair price structure, undercutting prices on locally plentiful products like melons and tomatoes. If the small farmer is left with a table-full of produce at the end of the day, it makes it difficult for her to stay in business. So if supporting a small producer farm is important to you, don't be afraid to ask.

This stall at Noblesville Farmers Market ain't Walmart. - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • This stall at Noblesville Farmers Market ain't Walmart.


2) Can you tell me about your growing practices?

Just because something is sold at the farmer's market doesn't mean it was grown using sustainable or chemical-free farming practices. There are currently only two area markets that allow either only organically-grown produce (Farm to Fork Market at Normandy Farms) or actively seek out organic/sustainable growers (Indy Winter Farmers Market).

"I am happy when people ask questions - I want them to ask questions. I don't feel like there's anything that I can't tell my customers about the food that I'm selling," says Farm to Fork's Smietana, adding that educating the customer is part of being at market.

Of course, some crops are much more difficult to grow organically (in Indiana) than others, such as fruits and berries, which have a hard time with the humidity and bugs. But heat-loving crops like tomatoes can be grown quite successfully without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. So if your goal as a market patron is to avoid chemicals, look for vendors that advertise "chemical-free," or check with your vendor.


3) What's the best way to store/cook/grow this?

If your vendor grew the produce you're buying, he or she can likely offer a wealth of knowledge about everything from how to grow that food in your own backyard to favorite ways of cooking it. Don't be shy if you walk past a table and don't recognize a vegetable. Farmers are usually more than willing to chat, assuming there isn't a hot and angry crowd of customers in line behind you (getting to market early is the best way to buy some conversation time). And don't assume that the farmers will pass judgment on your relative lack of vegetable knowledge.

"I was 23 years old before I ate kale," says Genesis McKiernan-Allen, co-owner with her husband Eli Robb of Full Hand Farm. "If you're taking the time to come to a market and shop, you should ask questions," she explains, adding that the only question she tires of answering is whether she picked vegetables that morning. "I have to be at market at 7, which means I left the house at 6, which means I loaded up at 5, so no - I didn't get up at 3 a.m. to pick produce," she laughs.

Broad Ripple Farmers Market - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • Broad Ripple Farmers Market

Know your farmers' markets!

While not an exhaustive list of the Indianapolis metropolitan area farmer's markets, you might
find your favorite market's reselling policies below. If your market isn't listed, or if you have
further questions, contact the market manager (usually found by name or contact form on the
market website).

Use this list as a guide, but remember to ask questions at your market, as policies can be
difficult to enforce.

Binford Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
62nd Street and Binford Boulevard
Allows limited reselling: some vendors sell items produced by friends or family. No reselling from auction or wholesale allowed.

Broad Ripple Farmer's Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon
1115 Broad Ripple Ave.
Allows limited reselling at the discretion of the market manager - but only from an Indiana farm (or farm within 100 miles of Indianapolis). Vendors are required to label the resold produce with the name and location of the farm.

Carmel Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
5 Center Green, Carmel
Vendors must grow 50 percent of what they sell at market. Vendors may then sell from other producers, but may not resell items purchased at auction or wholesale.

Farm to Fork Market at Normandy Farms
Fridays, 4-7 p.m.
7802 Marsh Road
Strict no-reseller policy, enforced by affidavits signed by vendors.

Noblesville Farmers' Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Intersection of SR 32 and SR 19, Noblesville
Allows resellers. Requires that non-local produce be marked as such (e.g., "Texas tomatoes").

Old Town Greenwood Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon
525 North Madison Ave, Greenwood
Does not allow resellers, and all produce must be grown in Indiana.

Original Farmers' Market at the Indianapolis City Market
Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Vendors must grow at least 80% of what they sell at market. Out-of-state goods are not permitted without approval of market manager. If goods from other farms are sold, vendor must provide in writing the farm information to consumers. No product can be purchased at auction or wholesale supplier and resold.

Traders Point Creamery Green Market
Fridays (May-Oct.), 5 p.m.-8 p.m.; Saturdays (Nov.-April), 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
9101 Moore Road, Zionsville
No resellers allowed. Farmers from outside Indiana (southern Michigan) allowed at market for items such as berries and fruits.

Zionsville Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8-11 a.m.
S. Main and W. Hawthorne streets, Zionsville
Allows limited reselling at the discretion of the market manager, and working toward a no reseller policy. Items resold are from neighboring farms, not auction or wholesale.

Indy Winter Farmers Market
Saturdays in winter (November-April), 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
West wing of Indianapolis City Market
Does not allow resellers of products bought at auction, but does allow vendors to sell items that they themselves do not grow, at the discretion of the market manager.

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