Questions to Ask Your Farmer at the Farmers Market

By Marilee Nelson |

The three of us really try to take advantage of local farmer’s markets whenever possible! It is one of the best ways to find the freshest, highest quality, and least expensive, real food. 

Most towns and cities have at least a few and they make for a fun family activity in addition to letting you stock up on delicious and nutrient-dense foods. Not to mention that it is a great way to connect and support your local farmers and businesses- a win-win! 

The Importance of Knowing Your Food Source

Determining where your food comes from is more important than ever as labels at the grocery store can be confusing. Getting your food, specifically produce and meat, from farmers markets allows you to ask questions about the sourcing of your food more easily. 

We always recommend asking questions to your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) or Farmers Market vendors before purchasing. You want to look for organic or certified naturally grown produce. If organic is not available, follow the recommendations for avoiding the Dirty Dozen in favor of the Clean 15

Note that attaining the USDA organic certification is expensive so many farmers and small businesses are not certified organic. This doesn’t mean they inherently use pesticides, antibiotics, etc. That is why it’s key to ask questions!

Questions to Ask

One of the benefits of going to the farmer’s market is the ability to connect face to face with the farmers themselves. This makes asking the important questions a piece of cake!

The questions to ask vary on what you are looking to purchase. Initially, engage the farmer to talk about reasons they started farming. This conversation generally reveals whether conventional, organic, regenerative*, or biodynamic methods are used. 

Many times, you can determine if you want to dig in with more questions or politely move on. We don’t want the farmer to feel rejected, but if opportunity presents itself concerning your preference for organic produce, let your voice be heard! 

Note: In some parts of the country, people don’t think twice about whether food is organic or not. Raising awareness, in a gracious way, is a great way to start.

Here are the questions we ask about specific foods and hope it will inspire you to dig into more on where your food is coming from!

Questions we ask before purchasing produce: 

Questions we ask before purchasing animal products:

Dairy Products:

  • Are antibiotics or hormones used in the animal's food?

Chicken Products:

  • Are your chickens pasture-raised
    • If yes, ask what they eat and what supplemental feed they are provided. Supplemental food should be antibiotic free, soy-free, and organic.
  • Verify that the pasture is not sprayed with commercial fertilizers, herbicides, or fungicides.

Red Meat Products:

  • What is the animal fed throughout its life? The answer should be grass fed and grass finished!
    • If grass-fed, are any commercial fertilizers, herbicides, or fungicides used on the land?
    • Are your animals EVER given antibiotics?
  • Do you use regenerative grazing practices or any other regenerative farming practices?
  • Do you use biodynamic farming practices?

Fish and Seafood:

Remember, a farmer who is dedicated to ethical and natural/organic/regenerative practices will likely be open and transparent in answering these questions. Asking about their methods can help you make informed decisions about the food you choose to buy!

The good news is that the more consumers ask these questions and demand organic, high-quality food, the more the market will change! 

Additional Tips

  • If you are in or close to a metropolitan area there will be a handful of farmers’ markets. Check out those based around your neighborhood first and venture a bit if you feel you want something different!
  • Remember your reusable produce bags and it’s always a good idea to have cash! While most vendors have ways for card transactions, there may be a few who only accept cash.

Further Reading and Research

  1. Want to dive deeper into what ingredients to look for and avoid in food? Take a look at How to Toss the Toxins in your Pantry and Refrigerator.
  2. Learn more about regenerative agriculture with The Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
  3. *Watch this incredible regenerative farming documentary -  Kiss the Ground 
  4. Discover the power of food in What Traditional Foods Can Teach Us About Healthier Eating
Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.