Shoppers just now discovering the allure of open air fresh food markets in towns and cities should be aware of new developments. Not only is there an increasing number of different fruits and vegetables being offered, but also meats, dairy products, even fresh fish— all from small garden farms. And you know these foods come directly from garden farms because in the best markets, rules prohibit buying wholesale and reselling.
I recently visited one such market at Bellefontaine, Ohio, where friends of ours have a booth, and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of foods for sale. A farmer was selling cheese he processed from his own small dairy herd. Next to him was a farm couple selling pork they had raised themselves. They were even selling fresh, home-produced lard— the good stuff rarely available in any store.
Even more surprising, these marketers were selling cornmeal processed from their own corn and were planning to sell their own oat grain products this summer. Hull-less oats is so much easier to process than the commoner hulled varieties. Having predicted a long time ago that this was going to happen, I could hardly resist preening like a silly old peacock. I tried to grow hull-less oats years ago and learned to my chagrin that birds love it when the oat grains are in the milky stage. They ate almost my whole acre before I even knew I had a problem. Back then I was probably the only person in my neck of the woods growing the stuff (I got the seed from Canada) and every red-winged blackbird between here and Lake Erie dropped by to enjoy the feast. Now, hopefully, as more and more garden farmers grow hull-less oats and learn how to avoid heavy bird predation, the story will have a happier ending.
The reason why animal products and grains are now more in evidence at farmer’s markets is primarily because of heavy demand from consumers suspicious of foods from factory farm environments. On the other hand, the reason these products have not hitherto been much in evidence is because health regulations governing the retail sale of animal products can be a real snarl for the small producer to try to follow. Fortunately, the modern garden farmer, more than the farmers of my generation who would just as soon take a pitchfork to bureaucratic regulators, are much more willing to engage officialdom and work out the problems. The regulators on the other hand, are also more helpful and reasonable than they used to be (the milk inspector we had in the 1950s when my father and I went into big time dairying was a draconian son of a hardtack soda biscuit). Regulators are human too, believe it or not, and they realize that some of the regulations can be more than a little bit silly for small farmers intent on producing the most healthful food that they can anyway. Most inspectors want garden farmers to succeed because their food is the best available.
The dairyman marketing his own cheese, for example, decided instead of going through the travails of trying to sell raw milk products, which is an issue now enmeshed in a real bureaucratic turmoil, went to the trouble of putting in a pasteurizer. Whether that makes economic sense in the long run remains to be seen, but at least he avoided one of the biggest hassles in small scale marketing of dairy products. Where they can get away with it, raw milk producers sell their customers shares in the cows since it is supposed to be illegal to sell the milk outright. Obviously, this practice will continue to be controversial.
The people selling their own cornmeal had to go through some weird hoops too. It may surprise you to know that in some instances, you can sell grains to customers at market, but not flour ground from the grains. So you sell the grain and then grind it as part of customer service. In other instances you can’t sell flours and meals you grind in your kitchen but you can in some other building. Getting around ridiculous rules like this requires a positive attitude on all sides.
The number of fruits and vegetables is increasing too, as is the season for them. Our friends, Andy Reinhart and Jan Dawson, who sell under the name, Jandy, grow, among other things, vegetables in hoop houses for early markets. They had brought along a considerable amount of early butterhead lettuces (this was in May) and were all sold out by ten o’clock in the morning. Another marketer told me that he and his family took some twenty pints of wild black raspberries to market once. The berries disappeared faster than a handful of candy in a group of first graders.
See also Does Gardening Make for Better Sex? at Chelsea Green→
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land), The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life, and just released: Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.