Farmer's Market Rules

Now that you have your basics covered with the bulk (pantry) items, it's time to get the fun stuff. The farmer's market. You never know what you are going to find there, and it can really be a great experience. Or, I'm afraid to say, sometimes very disappointing, especially if your favorite stand happens not to be there- that very day, for whatever reason. You've been waiting all week to get some more of what you got last week, and they are just not there! It hurts. But, in the meantime, you can experience anything from a man trying to get out of a bag and chains while suspended upside-down in the air, live music, marching bands, running into friends, some nice treats... it is always fun to visit.

Now for the serious stuff: look for the the organic farmers, or those who have CSA's. Talk to them for a minute (if you go early enough, things are a bit more relaxed and you can ask your questions and get good answers). If they sound like they know what they are talking about, I'd say you can trust them. They should be able to easily tell you when they picked this or that vegetable, because they will have picked it themselves. Or how they grew/grow it, or where is their farm located- and can you visit. If they sidestep those very simple questions, you know something is not right. You should be able to visit the farm. They should be able to tell you when they picked the stuff. Also, be careful how you word the question, so you don't give them the answers that you are looking for. For example, I used to ask "Is this organic?" that is an easy answer, and I got plenty of "yes", even though they were the last thing but organic, or local for that matter. Better to ask: "how do you grow this" or "what do you use for fertilizer" etc.

Many times the produce farmers will also sell fresh eggs, since they use the chicken manure as fertilizer for the farm. Fresh eggs are incredible. They usually go for about $4 a dozen, and that is well worth it. But do ask them what they feed their chickens, and where they live. Or better yet, ask to go visit the farm and see how the chickens live. Don't ask if ''they are free roaming', because anyone can answer that..."yes" and get the money for it. The chickens should be living free around the farm, being able to go in and out of the chicken coop. Not crammed inside a chicken shed with hundreds of other birds. 

You will also probably find farmers selling goat milk, cheese and other products. Again, just ask about their farm and operations.
You will also, with luck, find farmers selling cow's milk, and cheese, much of it raw. Ask what the cows eat (they should be grass-fed, not corn-fed), and go from there. I can tell you, the milk and the cheese taste so good that you will become another convert, just like my friends and I did! Once you taste it, you can' t go back :)
You can also find breads, pasta, coffee, pastries... just always make sure to ask a few questions, and you are good to go. Like... ''what are the ingredients in this bread'', for example. Any one who uses the best ingredients and takes pride in their product will be more than happy to tell you all about it, because to them the quality is very important, and they are knowledgeable on the subject. If they are reluctant, or annoyed, that you are asking... them you are better off giving your precious money to a better deserving seller.

One important thing to know is: many small farms don't have the money to become "organic certified", but are truly organic farms. To become certified is incredibly expensive, and they just cannot afford it. Some examples of those farms are: Magnolia, KYV, Down To Earth, Cognito and Sweet Grass. They are great farms, and not "organic certified" but truly organic. You can also check the "Snail of Approval" list at Slow Food First Coast (http://www.slowfoodfirstcoast.com) for other farms, restaurants, honey and even chocolate makers.

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