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Do You Think Farmers' Markets Are 'Fresher'?

Local farmers’ market vendors say that the fruits and veggies they grow are superior to grocery store produce for many reasons.

Do you buy the freshest produce possible? According to many area farmers, the fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store may not be as fresh as you think.

With farmers' markets open now (or about to open) around the St. Louis area, including Wentzville, Lake Saint Louis, , , , , , Arnold and elsewhere, we wanted to talk a little about what "fresh" means to you.

Tim Hess, owner of Silent Oaks farm and a vendor at several area farmers’ markets, that most of the produce sold in local grocery stores comes from Calfornia or Florida, areas where many farms are staffed by migrant workers.

“It’s a long trail and at the end of the trail you’ll find that migrant Mexican workers do most of the work,” he said. “Not that I have anything against them, but those workers are going back to Mexico, and they’re working for minimal wages too.”

Hess added that on average, grocery store produce is shipped 1,500 miles, and that while it might be cheaper, it’s definitely not as fresh.

“When you buy a green bean from us, it is very fresh from the field, probably picked the day before,” he said. “When you buy it from the grocery store, it’s been sitting on the shelf, hydra-cooled and shipped across the country.”

Another farmer and local farmers’ market vendor, Michael Gehman, agreed that grocery stores’ produce is of a much lower quality than that of local farmers.

“When stuff is grown commercially for retail stores, it has to be planted ahead of time, so it won’t be fresh,” he . “It’s barely starting to ripen when it’s picked, and they pick in large quantities.”

Gehman noted that commercial growers need to store their produce before it’s ripe so that it can be shipped as needed, and agreed with Hess that most grocery store produce is farmed by migrant workers and shipped from California and Florida.

He said that the storage time involved prevents the natural ripening process, which explains why a “hot house” tomato isn’t as tasty as one grown in a garden and ripened naturally.

“Our stuff was picked when it was naturally ripened, and it’s ready to eat,” he said. “Most stores have to let their produce sit for a week or more because it’s not ripe yet.”

What do you think? Is the produce found at farmers’ markets really better to the fruits and vegetables you can find at grocery stores?

Anne Klein May 15, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Jo, you are absolutely right.
Linda Austin May 15, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I think the biggest difference is in fruit (and tomatoes are really fruit,). I have a hard time getting shipped-in fruit from grocery stores to ripen properly, but farmer's market fruit is already lusciously ripe and smells heavenly. Even the not-quite-ripe ones that get into grocery stores are better than those shipped unripe from afar. And I only buy local corn-on-the-cob. I'm getting hungry now.
Tim May 15, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Define "Local". Same city? Same State? Same region? While I agree that neighbor farmers should be supported, good luck trying to find any "Local" produce during the winter months in St Louis. Food safety is a huge consideration also. Lysteria and Salmonela are all tranfered by vegetables irrigated with non- potable water (pond/Lake water...). How many local farmers may use water to irrigate other than a garden hose. There are pluses and minuses to "neighbor farmers" and commercial farmers.
Bill Moritz May 15, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Unless, of course, you are asking a US Customs agent... Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893),[1] was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that affirmed the lower court ruling that the tomato should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable rather than a fruit. The Court's unanimous opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words "fruit" and "vegetable," under which a tomato is classified as a vegetable, instead of the technical botanical meaning.
Ed Norman May 15, 2012 at 06:28 PM
The two greatest deterrents to lo locally grown produce and fruits are... 1. Convenience - everyone wants to have their needs met close to home, easily accessible and inexpensive 2. Instant Gratification - "I want it NOW, even though it is not in season I want it and should be able to have it!" Gone are the days of waiting for the peaches and tomatoes to ripen in the backyard! I personally would much rather do without than eat the poor quality fruits and produce at most grocery stores.

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