Checking Out Farmers Market Homegrown Claims

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(Memphis) Farmers markets are popping up everywhere.

When the USDA started tracking them in 1994, there were 1,700 of them. In 2012, there were more than 7,000 listings across the country.

There is no shortage of people wanting to get their hands on fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers markets.

WREG-TV wanted to know how local is local and what's done to check the claims some vendors make about their products.

Clara Oswald and her family make the 140-mile round-trip to the Agri-Center farmer's market six days a week. It's a sacrifice she thinks people should know about.

"That hurts, really hurts us because we actually grow it. We don't just come in and buy it on Friday and set up on Saturday and sell," said Oswald, a Ripley, TN farmer.

Oswald says farmers markets are for farmers, not those who buy and resell.

She said, "It's not their homegrown products. It knocks the actual farmer out of getting in."

Different markets have different feels, but one thing is supposed to stay the same.

Dyersburg farmer, Teresa Harris, said, "We have about a 40 acre farm."

We asked Harris, who sets up at the Memphis Farmers Market downtown, which has an almost festive atmosphere, if she thought all of the vendors there were growing their own stuff.

She said, "They're supposed to be."

They are supposed to, but there are no guarantees.

Andrew Donnell was at the Memphis Farmers Market selling his Angus beef. He raises cattle and brings meat to sell on Saturdays. He tells us why customers should buy his product.

Donnell said, "It's born and raised on our own farm and we grow a lot of the feed ourselves."

He added, "The whole goal is to try to produce a better quality product."

Donnell helps run his family owned Donnell's Century Farm. We found a lot of information about it on the web, but there are no state regulations governing vendors or their claims.

They can say local while buying from out of state or even out of the country, just like a lot of supermarkets and big box stores. That's why some markets set up their own rules.

"We ensure that by doing farm visits. We also look at growers affidavits from county extension agents that grow and visit farms," said Allison Cook, Memphis Farmers Market.

However, Cook admits not every vendor gets a farm visit every season. That's why its best for you to ask questions.

"To these markets that opened up the first of May and they say OK, it's farmers market time. Let's see all the homegrown stuff. That's not true," said Oswald.

Heavy rainfall delayed local farmers from growing tomatoes. They won't be ready until July.

"You know what the weather has been and you know how long it takes a tomato to mature. So, you have to use your own judgement," said Tim Smith, Holly Springs farmer.

If the vendor can't tell you the exact location of their farm and how food is grown, don't take for granted that what you're buying is local and farm fresh.

One of the reasons for the growth in farmers markets is federal government money is now available to help open them.