How to talk to a farmer

Local food resources often encourage shoppers to get to know a farmer. But how do you do so, and why? Here are a few reasons and tips to connect with a farmer and the types of questions you might ask.

King County farmers markets
Shoppers buy strawberries direct from the farmer

Why get to know a farmer?

Whatever your reason for seeking out local farm fresh food, the folks who grow it have valuable perspective that you just can’t get when you shop at the grocery store.

  • Quality: Growers know when certain crops taste their best and can give you tips on what to buy each week. Once you establish a relationship, they may even set aside a choice item you’ve been looking for.
  • Health/Environmental: Every grower makes choices about how to produce food, from the inputs they apply (like pesticides or fertilizers), people they hire, to the certifications they get. Farmers may choose to get organic certification, follow low or no-spray practices, engage in salmon habitat protection, pay above agricultural wages, encourage native plants, or attract pollinators. If health or environmental reasons motivate you to shop local, the farmer producing your food is the best person to tell you about their practices.
  • Local businesses: When you buy from a local farmer you support their business, but sometimes knowing a farmer’s personal story can solidify your conviction.
  • Unique crops: Dying to try hardy kiwi, cook a wild chanterelle feast, or make garlic scape pesto? Oftentimes, unique crops do not show up in the grocery store due to short shelf life, limited availability or demand. Farmers markets are the best place to find crops that may only have a two or three week harvest period, and those who grow or forage for them are your best resource.

When to talk to a farmer

“Don’t expect to have…conversations at the busiest time of the market,” suggests Will O’Donnell, executive Director of the Washington State Farmers Market Association. Some markets are busiest right when they open, and others, toward the middle. A good rule of thumb is that if the booth is not busy and it is easy to walk around the market, it should be an okay time to ask a farmer a few questions.

Growing things
Michelle Blakely of Growing Things farm communes with her goats

Questions to ask

Even if you do not know a lot about farming, simply ask, “Can you tell me a little about your growing practices?” The details they share gives you a good sense of their values and what is most important to them. You can follow up by asking how they control for pests, what their soil is like, or how they harvest their crops.

“What kind of crops do you grow?” or “What is your specialty?” Most farmers pride themselves on certain crops, or grow food in climates that favor certain crops. For example, Farmer Ian Fels of Mezza Luna Farm loves growing a variety of peppers to sell at markets and to put in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, whereas Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center is especially known for their crunchy sweet orange carrots.

We are lucky in King County to have so many opportunities to find farm fresh food grown by local farmers. Your curiosity and interest in the producers who make it all possible will only enhance your enjoyment and connection. Explore farmers markets and local producers on the King County story map.

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