Carla Jenkins, Texas Farmers’ Market founder and Board Chair, describes why we do what we do in the article below. Our policies are strict as the only producer-only verified market group in town, we can assure you that vendors are honestly bringing the fruits of their labors and using the practices they tout to shoppers. Please continue to ask questions of your farmer/rancher to understand who is farming sustainably at all times and who relies on integrated pest management and when, why and how they may use herbicides or pesticides.
Farm inspections are the best part of my job, ensuring what the farmers are growing is what they are actually offering for sale at the market and how they grow it. The farmers are proud and love sharing what they do. Learning something new is rewarding and with each visit, I find out more about how difficult it is to be a farmer in Central Texas.
My first farm inspection was at a farm southeast of San Antonio. We drove up into one of the fields where I saw a hoe next to the rows of potatoes; some had been uncovered. “How do you harvest these potatoes, Johnny?” “With that hoe”, he said. This field was at least an acre! I was shocked that he did not have a big tractor with an implement that dug potatoes or someone that he paid to dig for them. We traveled next to his watermelon field that had been eaten by wild hogs. From that day on, I have continued to be amazed by what farmers and their families do to get food to our tables.
When farmers raise crops organically and sustainably their efforts and costs seem to double, or triple. Sometimes the bugs or weeds get the crop and they have to abandon it and replant, start over. Farmers who use chemicals in their fields have a huge advantage. Just as ranchers do when they use hormones in what they feed their steers, adding weight more quickly on less feed. When you see perfect tomatoes or corn without worms, there is a reason. I’m still torn between what I call the “supermarket look” and a piece of corn with a worm in the end. So, is it fair for farmers who use chemicals and those who don’t to compete at a farmers’ market? How do the organic growers make enough money for their smaller yields and the crops they have lost and had to replant? Is it enough to be delivering fresh, locally grown food to shoppers?
The answers to these questions are complex. There is no way we have enough farmers in our area to require that they all grow with organic methods. Most that use chemicals use them only when they “have to.” If they do use chemicals, they cannot dance around their answers to those of you who ask! They must be immediately honest and transparent. Our practices dictate that we can only host vendors who are up front about this.
Until we have more farmers in our 150 mile radius we will bring farmers who use integrated pest control management (IPM is the selection and use of pest control actions that will ensure favorable economic, ecological and social consequences and is applicable to most agricultural, public health and amenity pest management situations) to our farmers’ markets to supply your demand. Make sure you personally support what is important to you, be it local, organic, sustainably grown, less expensive, conventionally grown or looks perfect. Your demand is what will drive our farmers’ market future.
The term”sustainable” is a whole-systems approach to food production that balances environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic viability. It is an integrated system of plant and animal production practices with a site-specific application that will over the long-term: preserve and encourage biodiversity, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base of the land, minimize use of nonrenewable resources, maximize use of on-farm resources, create as little waste as possible, engender the humane treatment of all animal life, and provide fair wages and working conditions to all employees. The goal of creating a sustainable agricultural system is to maximize positive impacts to the environment and community while providing a viable level of production and profit. In order for a vendor at Texas Farmers’ Market to market their business under the term “sustainable” they must meet the following criteria:
Produce and Cut Flower producers agree to practice water conservation, have proper nutrition management (e.g. cover cropping, low till and crop rotation), promote biodiversity, fertilize appropriately so as not to cause excess runoff (using on-farm nutrient sources whenever possible), employ a system of Integrated Pest Management, maximize best use of products approved for organic farming (e.g. items on the OMRI list), and use no synthetic products (e.g. Roundup, SevinDust) on products sold at market or surrounding plants on the property.
Meat producers agree to employ a pasture-based system of rotational grazing, provide supplemental feed that is organic and non-GMO or pesticide free when financially and logistically possible, maximize best use of products approved for use on pasture lands (e.g. items on the OMRI list) and if synthetic products (e.g. Roundup, SevinDust) must be used for the overall health of the property, grazing should be deferred from pastures where these products have been used according to the guidelines on the label (extended deferment is encouraged), not administer growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics on animals brought to market for consumption (including animals that have had these products administered but are past the legal withdraw date), treat all animals humanely in life, give ample room to prevent overcrowding and process under either State or Federal inspection. Fish producers, in addition to the preceding requirements, must use a closed-loop, environmentally responsible water discharge system.
Dairy and cheese producers agree to provide feed that is organic and non-GMO or pesticide free when financially and logistically possible, maximize best use of products approved for use on grazing lands (e.g. items on the OMRI list), use no synthetic products (e.g. Roundup, SevinDust) on pasture or other feed or anywhere on the property, administer no growth hormones, practice judicious use of antibiotics when necessary (but the milk must test clear of antibiotics before being sold at market) and treat all animals humanely with ample access to shelter and pasture.
Eggs producers agree to employ a pasture-based system of grazing, provide feed that (if not certified organic) is non-GMO or natural/pesticide free, maximize best use of products approved for use on grazing lands (e.g. items on the OMRI list), use no synthetic products (e.g. Roundup, SevinDust) on pasture or other feed or anywhere on the property, administer no antibiotics, treat all animals humanely and if chickens are fed kitchen table scraps and the eggs are marketed as non-GMO, no more than 20% of their diet can come from those scraps.
Value-added vendors agree to use produce, eggs, meat, flours and other products from a farmers’ market vendor or local agricultural producer when available (price is not considered a factor in availability). Distinction for producers using what they grew themselves in value-added products.
Any vendors that do not meet the above criteria may still be allowed to sell at the farmers’ market, but will not be allowed to market themselves with the term “sustainable”. All agricultural producers that do not meet the above criteria must be completely transparent about their practices and have explicit signage at the market explaining their use of non-approved synthetic or other products and antibiotics to shoppers. Note: Texas Farmers’ Market based our definition of “sustainable” off of the USDA’s definition and then expanded upon it based on the needs of our community and the knowledge of our food producers.