The biggest gripe we’ve heard from the market’s customers over the years is that not all goods for sale come from local or regional sources. Tomatoes grown in hothouses, apples shipped from northern states, strawberries hauled in from Mexico and other produce were all too common on vendors’ tables. Sometimes, grocery store price tags were still on the products.
People usually shop at farmers markets with two things in mind: finding fresh produce and supporting local farming. While many vendors were meeting that expectation, others were supplementing their tables with lots of purchased products for resale.
At the least, the practice was misleading, if not downright disingenuous. It wasn’t fair to buyers. More so, it wasn’t fair to truly local farmers whose hard labors were at stake as they competed for customers.
Thankfully the market’s new board of directors took steps to remedy the problem this year by implementing new rules. As Staff Writer Zach Vance reported in Sunday’s edition, the old rules only required vendors to grow at least 50 percent of the produce they sold, while the other 50 percent sold could come from outside sources.
New bylaws require at least 75 percent be produced or grown by the vendor within a 100-mile radius, while the other 25 percent may be purchased, but still must be produced within 150 miles of the market.
While that’s still no guarantee the tomatoes, cucumbers and collard greens you buy won’t come from mass production, at least the majority of them will be grown within striking distance of Johnson City. The new rules would still allow vendors to bring in those prized peaches from northern South Carolina, but not those Pennsylvania apples. Leaders are conducting “farm checks” on vendors to ensure the proper ratio of homegrown products.
They’re also are trying manage the market’s farm-to-craft ratio, with 70 percent of the market agricultural products, 15 percent value-added products and 15 percent crafts.
Not all vendors are happy with the new rules, but these steps are long overdue. You can shop at the Johnson City Farmers Market with a measure of confidence in what you buy.
And here’s a piece of advice: If you’re still concerned about where and how that cabbage was grown, simply ask.