Summer Sizzle

Mother Nature wasted no time cranking up the heat after the official start of summer last week. Temperatures have soared into the 90’s with equally oppressive high humidity. It seems like only a few weeks ago we were lamenting the frigid chill of a lingering winter. Last weekend was a scorcher and the coming weekend is forecasted to be even hotter.

Here are seven tips to make your market experience in hot weather easier.

1. Leave your dog at home. We love dogs. They are welcome at all Central Farm Markets locations. However, look down at your feet at market and you’ll notice you’re standing on black top or concrete. By noon on a sunny, hot, summer day concrete can reach 150 degrees and black top temperatures can pass 160 degrees. That’s hot enough to fry an egg!

2. Bring an insulated bag or cooler. In addition to cold items, an insulated bag will help protect tender greens from wilting between the market and home. Here’s a tip. Fold several layers of newspaper to the dimension of your bag. Shop for cold products first. Cover the cold products with the paper and put fruits and vegetables on top. Newspaper is a great insulator and will help keep cold items cooler. Or you can go all out in full summer market style.

3. Protect yourself from the sun and heat. Hats, umbrellas, shades, sunscreen, and linen are all ways to ward off the ultraviolet rays of sun. For additional cooling I’ve seen everything from bandanas with cool packs to battery-operated fans on baby carriages. My personal favorite is a misting bottle with plain ol’ cold water for regular spritzing.

4. Stay hydrated. It never fails. At least once each summer someone hits the ground from dehydration during market. Vendors, customers – we all need to consume more than our usual amounts of liquids this time of the year. Mountain Valley Springwater and other drinks are available at many of the prepared food vendors. Dr. Brown with Doctors to You stresses the need to replenish electrolytes during extremely hot weather to avoid heat distress.

5. Know the signs of heat distress. Signs of heat distress include clammy skin, heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, rapid pulse, muscle cramps, nausea and headache. Be aware if you are experiencing any of these symptoms (or witness someone in distress) to immediately move into the shade and drink plenty of cool liquids, preferably liquids with electrolytes to replenish those lost through sweating. Dr. Brown explained that everyone reacts to heat and sun differently depending on age, health and medications. He advised, “When a person stops sweating and their skin turns red, then it’s time to call 911.”

6. Shop early. In addition to beating the high temperatures of the day, early shoppers get first pick of a fully stocked market and a good parking space. At the same time, please allow vendors to get set up and ready for business if you arrive at market prior to 9 AM.

7. Use the Market Concierge. This is the final market weekend prior to Independence Day. We’re expecting it to be not only hot as in temperatures, but hot as in busy with everyone stocking up for their Fourth-of-July celebrations. Instead of making multiple trips to a hot car that could melt zucchini, leave your purchases with a Central Farm Markets employee at the Customer Service tent who will load your car curbside.

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A Community of Trust

We Are Family

My high school class reunion was last weekend. I was on the fence about going since doing anything social on a Saturday night requires I be home in time for a decent night’s rest prior to market the following day. Throughout social media in the days leading up to the reunion fellow classmates started hash tagging their posts #wearefamily in anticipation (I’ll date myself, Sister Sledge was on the charts when I was a teen).

My decision was made – Central Farm Markets won because we are family.

There is an inherent vibe to a great farmers market that folds customers and vendors into a unique camaraderie cutting across social divides. I get to see my siblings once, maybe twice a year, but my fellow vendors and customers are there just about every week, some year-round. Creatures of habit, many customers frequent the market about the same time each week, developing their own relationships through chance meetings at their shared favorite vendor stands. Recipes are shared. Together we celebrate our milestones, like births and weddings. We mourn our losses.

We develop a trust with each other. Sometimes that trust pays off in ways far more valuable than what’s for sale.

The customer had a special order, her regular purchases and an add-on of something extra. The amount was much more than what she usually spent. Rooting around in her basket she panicked realizing she did not have her wallet. She apologized profusely then lamented she’ll have to wait until next week.

“Take it,” I said, “I know you’re good for it,” refusing to take back the products and writing down her total in my notebook. She’s been a regular for ten years. I wasn’t worried in the least about getting stiffed.

After she walked away, the next customer incredulously said to me, “I can’t believe you let that woman walk away without paying? Maybe I should forget my wallet, too.”

“Not on your life. I’ve never seen you before,” I responded and then went on to explain the benefits of regularly participating in a local food (or anything) economy where in addition to financial transactions, relationships are valued.

I get it. I’ve been there when I realized my wallet was sitting on my desk at home when I’m at the butcher shop, at the organic feed dealer, at the poultry farm where I pick up peeps for broilers – all in one day, all at a significant distance from the farm. Being there every week, every month, year after year has created an element of trust within our sphere.

…just like at market.

There are several ways Central Farm Markets fosters weekly community spaces – tables, chairs and shade for customers to congregate, to visit with each other and, listen to live music. There are activities for children and pets. There are cooking demos along with health education programs. Central Farm Markets works with community groups, such as Manna Food Center.

Family keeps in touch.

Did I miss catching up with my old classmates? Yes, but thanks to social media I’ve been able to keep in touch with many of them over the years. Which brings me to the Central Farm Markets family. There are many ways for everyone to stay in touch. #CentralFarmMarkets tracks across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms. Even if you are not signed up for the weekly email newsletter, it’s cross-posted along with the line-up of vendors at each market that week. Show us what you’re buying, what you’re cooking, what you’re eating at the markets. In return, you can follow what your vendors and markets are up to and you just may get in on The Dirt before everyone else.

The Dirt on Certified Organic

This week’s Dishing the Dirt answers the question, “Why are there not more Certified Organic vendors at the markets?”

First, let’s establish the official lingo. There’s a distinction between organic practices and being Certified Organic – little o versus big O. Unless a producer has been granted approval (and paid fees) from a USDA-approved third-party certification body, they can not legally mark or advertise their products as Organic or Certified Organic. Certified Organic producers you will find at Central Farm Markets include Spiral Path Farm (Bethesda, Westfield), Bending Bridge Farm (Bethesda), Toigo Orchards (all markets) and The Mushroom Stand (Bethesda).

What is “Certified Organic”?

Certified Organic produce is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMO), or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

To use the Certified Organic logo, producers must be certified by one of the 48 domestic USDA-accredited and authorized certification operations or use imported materials from 32 certification bodies located in foreign countries approved by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) or the 21 foreign governments with specific organic trade agreements with the U.S.

While most of this sounds simple in practice, in reality it can be onerous, especially for new and beginning and small-scale producers who would much rather be devoting their time and resources to growing food instead of paperwork.

The Challenges

The first hurdle to becoming Certified Organic is the Transition Period – a 36-month time-frame in which producers must follow all the regulations, keep all the records and pay all the fees without the benefit of using the Certified Organic designation and the ability to charge accordingly, thus increasing the likelihood of operating at a loss.

This brings us to the second hurdle – money. Organic certification costs the farmer money every single year. The certification body charges not only annual fees based upon formulas of application fees, certification fees, site-inspection fees and a percentage of sales, all of which adds up to thousands of dollars every single year. Add to that number resources allocated to paperwork, the added expenses of a Certified Organic supply chain and costlier, more labor-intensive agricultural practices. It starts adding up quickly.

Many customers ask for Certified Organic meats, however, for a producer this means starting with Certified Organic animals (breeding or young), using only Certified Organic feeds which routinely cost more than twice that of non-certified, have the land where the livestock is raised certified and have the livestock processed at a Certified Organic slaughterhouse/processing facility, so few and far between many organic livestock producers must transport their animals several hours away and book their animals several months in advance. Plus, if an animal becomes ill or injured, medicating it automatically removes it immediately from being sold as Certified Organic. And here’s the rub, if a farmer is raising multiple species, each species of livestock must be certified. Similarly, so must the processor. Given the stringency of the guidelines, for smaller producers/services the investment in fees, ongoing paperwork and logistics doesn’t often pencil into profits for small-scale producers who direct-market to their customers.

Why do it?

There are many reasons producers go the extra mile to obtain organic certification along with other third-party certifications validating their production practices, such as Certified Forest Grown, Certified Gluten-free, Certified Kosher, Certified Grass-fed and Animal Welfare Approved, to name a few. Many of Central Farm Markets’ vendors utilize organic practices but forgo certification, especially those who only sell direct to their customers.

“We grow beautiful food. To us, that means food produced with integrity, care for the land and for the people who grow it,” says Audrey Fisher-Pedersen, co-owner of Bending Bridge Farm, which has been Certified Organic for ten years.

In addition to the extra effort to adhere to rigorous standards and third-party inspections, Pedersen added, “It’s damn hard. Organic methods are genuinely more difficult to use successfully.” She cites row covers to protect tender plants from insects instead of spraying chemical pesticides. “Row covers cost us thousands of dollars each year for the product itself. Plus, they are labor-intensive to apply to crops and remove for cultivation and harvest.”

When asked what the largest hurdles to having more Certified Organic producers are, Lucas Brownback of Spiral Path Farm, now in their 25th year of certification and second generation, immediately responded with “money and paperwork”.

“Though costly, we believe in the standards that the certification implies, and we are willing to make that investment,” said Brownback.

Toigo Orchards has been a staple of the farmers market landscape in the mid-Atlantic region for over twenty-five years and has been a founding vendor at all Central Farm Markets. Although the original orchards are not certified, throughout the years they have worked diligently to battle production challenges by using organic methods such as integrated pest management (IPM). With the construction of their state-of-the-art greenhouse, Toigo Organic Farms now produces Certified Organic vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Owner Mark Toigo witnessed the growing demand for Certified Organic and has come to where he is through much trial and error. “It’s not an easy undertaking and you have to have the right people who genuinely care,” said Toigo who strives to do a better job at what he is trying to do.

Certified Organic is much more to these farmers than just a label, a standard, a certification – it is a belief, a way of life, a philosophy.

THANK YOU

To our customers, you’re the B E S T!!!

I am very grateful to Central Farm Markets to write this blog as an interface between the markets, our customers and extended community. The online platform has offered space to bridge the gap between eaters and producers. As I’ve worked my way through subjects relevant to both audiences, this week’s post is a HUGE thank you from the Sunday markets vendors, volunteers and employees to all the people who braved torrential rains to shop.

Yeah, we know we had a washout with the rain killing hopes for a lucrative day during the spring flush of strawberries, the first cherries, asparagus and many other crops that farmers have been working relentlessly to bring to market. Here’s the rub – we can’t hold over most fresh products from week-to-week. The good news – much of the unsold produce goes to Manna Food Center.

The reality is going to market is a gamble and sometimes Mother Nature gets the best of us. It’s tough to do business and keep your tents from cartwheeling into a twisted mess for the recycle bin. Each vendor must make a call based upon their own experience. In severe weather, some vendors may not be able to physically make the trip due to localized flooding, blocked roads or the need for all-hands-on-deck to deal with weather-related emergencies. Similarly, choosing to close a market is not a decision made lightly, one often involving a combination of weather-watching and vendor feedback.

Although the markets made it through Sunday, some vendors chose not to come, and the Diabetes Awareness Day at Mosaic had to be cancelled…but has been rescheduled to Sunday, September 16 at Mosaic! Others made the best of a bad situation with a healthy dose of humor.

Even though we were all soaked to the bone, our stands awash in rain, some products damaged beyond donation, there was a sense of accomplishment, of gratitude because of our customers chose to show up in some of the most miserable weather in the history of markets.

Many customers lamented our fate to spend six hours (or more) working in the unrelenting rains. Here’s a secret: market day means standing under a tent on black top and interfacing with people who appreciate our hard work as opposed to….well, farming in all sorts of weather and conditions. See all that gorgeous produce? It’s harvested when there’s oppressive humidity and pouring rain as well as when there’s not a cloud in the sky on a balmy day every single week. It’s what we’ve chosen to do with our lives. It’s what we’re passionate about. Last Sunday our customers rewarded us with gratitude instead of grumbling and we love you for coming out along with us in the rain.

Despite the frustration and helplessness of inclement weather there was a definite air of relief as patrons dashed in and out, many with colorful rain gear (especially the kids!), graphic umbrellas and waterproof boots. Oblivious to the rain, internationally renown chef and humanitarian Jose Andres strolled through market shopping with his family, thanking vendors and customers for being there.

Die-hard customers are a sign that a market has become an integral part of the existing community. While the markets coped with high winds and downpour last Sunday, customers were also doing their best to support their market by showing up and we thank you!