Communities are recognizing the economic advantages of shopping their local retailers and service providers. This buying local trend is magnified in the food industry where consumers are eager to support local growers and purchase food that is freshly harvested and in season.
As farmers markets are opening all around the state, it’s the perfect time for shoppers to think about what it means to truly “buy local.” Not everyone has the same definition. The S.C. Department of Agriculture’s Certified South Carolina program, a cooperative effort with farmers, processors, wholesalers and retailers, defines “local” as South Carolina. A grocery store, for example, may define “local” as anything grown in a three-state region or within a 300-mile radius. But a shopper at the farmers market may assume local produce means it was grown within the city or county.
Because ideas about locally grown fruits and vegetables vary, consumers should get to know their farmers and ask questions about where the items were grown and farming practices.
“People are hesitant to ask where it comes from,” said Ansley Turnblad, Certified South Carolina program coordinator. “We encourage people to ask these types of questions at their market. Don't be shy or hesitant to engage with the vendor.”
Turnblad suggests asking farmers the following five questions:
- Are you the grower?
- How long have you been growing or farming?
- Where is your farm located and did this produce come from that location?
- Are you a member of the Certified South Carolina program?
- What made you become a farmer? What do you enjoy about farming? Get to know their history and you’ll get a sense of their farming practices and passion for their work.
Also pay attention to their market display – is the produce out of the direct sun? Is it clean and fairly priced? If you regularly shop the market, take note of farmers who participate on a regular basis and seem engaged and proud of their products.
If you notice products that aren’t typically grown in large quantities in South Carolina (like bananas or pineapples) or aren’t currently in season in South Carolina, that should prompt you to ask questions about the product’s origin. (Check out the “What’s in Season” guide from Certified South Carolina).
As with anything, it pays to be a savvy consumer. That means being educated, informed and asking questions. Buying locally grown produce helps local farmers and ensures you’re getting a truly quality product, Turnblad said.
If you need to ask questions to become an informed consumer, do so. Good farmers will be happy to answer questions and share information, she said. If you encounter a farmer that is vague or hesitant to share information that can be a red flag that the produce may not be as local as you think.
“If they are on the up and up, they will be transparent and honest,” Turnblad said. “They might even give you more information than you asked for.”