Chow Town

With farmers’ markets opening soon, now’s time to educate yourself

Last summer, when I shared

what to ask to successfully shop a farmers’ market

, I wanted people to feel more at ease when they arrived at an area farmers’ market.

I thought I was helping those reluctant to shop at farmers’ markets. What I didn’t realize at the time was everyone doesn’t understand that farmers’ markets are not created equal.

Let’s take a step back. Shopping at an area farmers’ market doesn’t guarantee you are getting sustainable-farmed products, local products or even products grown, raised or produced by the person selling them.

I consider myself a savvy farmers’ market shopper, and I typically can distinguish those who grow the produce they sell from those who truck in loads of produce from auctions and warehouse whose origins unknown. But I admit that, depending on the market, I still have to look very closely and sometimes I have to inquire.

To help decipher the myriad of terms used by area farmers’ markets, here is a sampling of those used and what they mean:


A more holistic approach to sustainable or organic agriculture that takes into account spiritual and other ecological considerations.

Conventionally Grown

A widespread approach to farming that allows use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones and other methods of industrialized agriculture.

Naturally Grown

Like a lot of the terms you see at farmers’ markets, this is an unregulated one that means the grower follows organic standards but is not certified by the USDA. There is a Certified Naturally Grown program that is a lower-cost alternative to the USDA’s organic certification.


Like individuals, markets’ definitions of local vary greatly. To ensure local, some markets apply mileage restrictions on vendors. For instance, at some farmers’ market, vendors have to produce, raise or grow their goods within 100 miles of the market location. Other markets increase their mileage limit, for instance, to cover the entire state of Missouri. That means your summer watermelon could have come as far away as 300 miles or more.

Certified Organic

Vendor met standards of the USDA organic program and is therefore certified organic through the USDA. To obtain certification vendors must go through a rigorous application and inspection process and pay a fee.


Vendor follows organic practices, but is not certified by the USDA. A responsible market will inspect these vendors’ farms or businesses to ensure organic practices are followed.

Producer/Vendor Grown

Vendor can only sell goods they grow, raise or produce themselves.

Purchased — Locally, Regionally, Warehouse

Goods that are purchased from another farmer, a produce auction or wholesaler, and are not grown, made or raised by the vendor selling them.

Sustainably Grown/Sustainable Agriculture

An unregulated term that means the vendor takes into account social, humane, economic and environmental considerations to ensure the viability of the ecosystem.

A lot of area farmers’ markets, in recent years, have done great work to rid markets of dishonest vendors and provide more transparency. And my best advice is still the same advice — don’t be shy. Talk to the vendors, find the market manager and never hesitate to ask questions.

Raised by generations of cooks, farmers and green thumbs, Andrea Shores is an enthusiastic eater and curious cook. She loves sharing her passion for local food by telling farmers’ and food purveyors’ stories.