Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 5, 2013

Forum: Region blessed with many great farmers

I set up at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market last June with a table full to bursting with peas, carrots, beets, chard, kale, spinach, salad mix and green onions. The stalls were bustling, the sun was out, I had a cup of coffee —the recipe for a perfect market.

Customers quizzed me on how to cook beets (they’re great on the grill) and how the weather was affecting my crops (things were awfully dry). I visited with other farmers and we swapped stories about the latest bug infestation and the progress of our tomatoes. I was having a great day.

What I didn’t count on were the onions. Two tables down, another vendor had the biggest, hugest, most perfect onions I’d ever seen. I mean these were softball-size sweet onions. The kind you could slice up and use to play ring toss. And at 50 cents each, they were darn cheap, too.

Unfortunately, there was no way those onions were grown in Michigan. Big onions like those are day-length sensitive. That means they don’t size up until the days start to shorten toward fall. Even after they are harvested, they need to sit for a couple of weeks in order to develop their dry, papery skin.

They were too perfect to have been stored from the year before and it was way too early in the season for them to be fresh. I asked the vendor and her story kept changing. I was left with the sinking suspicion that this vendor was just going down state, buying commodity onions from warehouses and repackaging them as farm-fresh local food.

As someone who makes his living growing and selling food in this region, it hurts me when people misrepresent what they sell. It hurts my bottom line, it is dishonest to customers, it sends money downstate to food wholesalers and it breaks the link between farmer and eater that our markets should cherish.

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