Farmers markets are growing in popularity. Some people may wonder, however, if the foods sold at them are safe. The answer really depends on where you shop. Each market has different standards for its farmers.
At Farmers Market of the Ozarks in southeast Springfield, more than 10,000 shoppers show up on Saturday mornings to buy fresh produce from more than 100 local farmers. FMO requires each of its farmers to pass on-site inspections.
On Friday, FMO manager Lane McConnell inspected Broken Wire Ranch in Cedar County near Stockton. She had several questions, including what the ranch uses for “predator control,” and how many chickens it processes each year. She also wanted to know how Broken Wire employees handle a sick chicken.
McConnell asks vendors dozens of questions to try to make sure customers get safe products.
“We want to see how our vendors are harvesting things from the field and how they are bringing them to market, that they are using clean crates, using proper temperatures, and that it's not going to be contaminated when it comes to market,” said McConnell.
FMO uses U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
“It's an inspection to make your farm better, make you able to produce a better product for consumers,” said McConnell.
“Oh, they're fine. It keeps people honest,” said Broken Wire Ranch owner Tom Lewis.
Lewis says he takes a lot of pride in his product.
“I don't know any of my farmers who wouldn't let their kids go out and pick strawberries or produce and eat it direct from the field,” he said.
If vendors cook food at the market, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department keeps tabs on it.
“We make sure they've gone through our class and have obtained our permit and we inspect them routinely,” said the health department’s Eric Marcol.
If there's a consistent problem, the market will drop the farmer. However, managers say those cases are extremely rare and the majority of farmers want to offer the best product they can.
“It’s pretty much a way of life. You have to enjoy the sunrise and sunsets,” said Lewis.
Farm inspections are done about every year; more often if there's a produce change. FMO also will do surprise inspections. Inspections are not graded.
It's easy to find results from restaurant inspections -- those results are public. Farm inspection results are private, however. However, FMO says all you have to is ask. McConnell says most farmers will gladly share that information.