Local & Organic FAQ's
In California, farmers and rancher are allowed to sell directly to consumers, exempt from packaging, sizing, and labeling regulations, at Certified Farmers’ Markets (CFM). These are locations certified by the county Agricultural Commissioner for the purpose of direct sales. Many Certified Farmers’ Markets have technically separate, but adjacent markets where prepared foods, bread, and other complimentary items can be sold. Farmers may also sell direct to consumers from a Farm Stand at or near the point of production. Recent legislation has expanded options for growers at these stands.
In order to sell in a CFM, producers must have a producer’s certificate. The producer’s certificate, issued by the Ag Commissioner and displayed in each stall, is the buyer’s guarantee that the produce was grown by the vendor. Farmers’ markets are an essential part of small farmers’ livelihood, as they may not have sufficient volume to sell through other commercial outlets. In contrast, in non-certified markets, vendors are not usually farmers and typically resell produce from distributors or culls from packing houses.
Certified Farmers’ Markets serve a crucial function in the agricultural economy of California. CFMs provide direct marketing outlets for small farmers, which give them a higher return on their labor, and provide consumers with farm-fresh, nutritious food at a reasonable price. Further, markets benefit the community by supporting regional self-sufficiency, channeling money into the local economy, and commonly serve an indispensable role as a community gathering place that includes live music, art, family activities, and more.
For tips on shopping at farmers’ markets click here.
There is a Certified Farmers’ Market open almost every day of the week somewhere in Placer and Nevada Counties. Follow these links to find out schedule and locations.
- Foothill Farmers’ Market (Placer & Nevada Counties)
- Nevada County Growers’ Market (Nevada County)
- Nevada City Farmers’ Market (Nevada City)
No, all the produce sold at the market is not necessarily organic. See below for more information.
The USDA requires that crops labeled as organic are raised without the use of most conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers, or genetically engineered materials. There is also an emphasis on conservation and using renewable resources. Animal products must come from animals that have been fed organic feed, had access to the outdoors, and received neither antibiotics nor growth hormones.
The USDA organic seal identifies growers that meet the National Organic Program (NOP) standards set forth by the USDA. Some very small-scale growers may use organic practices without being certified, so always ask growers about their practices.
USDA standards state that foods labeled “100% organic” must be entirely organic, “organic” labels must be at least 95% organic and labels stating “Made with Organic Ingredients” must be at least 70% organic. (For more information on organic labeling, see the USDA fact sheet)
“Natural” does not mean “organic” and is not a USDA certified standard for produce. For meat and poultry products, “natural” signifies that a product contains no added colorings nor artificial ingredients and was minimally processed.
Clarifying the issues involved may help you make more informed decisions about your food purchases.
An organic product is one that is produced by a Certified Organic farmer in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations, which prohibit the use of pesticides and other chemicals and promote ecological balance and biodiversity.
Local products are a little harder to define. Authors of the 100-Mile Diet suggest that we look at local as meaning produced within a 100 mile radius. Others stretch that to 150 miles, and nutritionist Joan Gussow contends that local is produced within a day’s drive from your home. Still others define local by county or state, but all definitions attempt to limit consumption to food produced within your region.
If you choose to buy local, try to make it as local as possible. First, choose products grown in your own county; then those from neighboring counties; then those from your region, your state, etc. The closer to home the products are grown, the better for you in terms of freshness, benefits to your local environment, and supporting your local economy.
Defining growers as local or organic is not always straightforward. For instance, some local farmers are Certified Organic farmers and some local farmers use more conventional practices. Still others follow organic guidelines, but are not Certified Organic for various reasons including the time and cost involved in certification. On the other side, not all organic growers are small farmers. In fact, as authors Michael Pollan and Sam Fromartz both independently point out, more and more organic produce comes from large scale operations, including branches of Dole, General Mills, and other large corporations. A lot of organic produce is imported; shipped from as far away as China or New Zealand.
Finally, you have to decide on what basis you are making these decisions. Organic and local are both good options when considering factors such as nutrition and the environment, but for different reasons and in different ways. When weighing a consumer choice, there are health, taste, and environmental benefits to both organic and local foods that should be considered.
Eating locally to support your local farmers has many benefits. These include the freshness and rich taste of locally-produced food, strengthening local economies, cultivating community interactions, and the peace of mind from knowing the farmer who grew your food. For more on the specific health, social, environmental, and economic benefits of purchasing locally produced food see Why Eat Local?
One of the most commonly publicized benefits of eating locally is the reduction in the distance food travels before it is consumed, known as “food miles”, and the corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A study done by Rich Pirog from Iowa State University in 2001 found that food in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to fork. The impact of this claim was brought into question by a more recent study from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). The CMU study calculated that food distribution from producer to consumer accounts for just 4 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the US food system. The majority of the emissions occur in the production phase. In light of this, the limited GHG reductions may not be enough of a reason for some to choose local food.
As for organic, studies comparing conventionally and organically produced foods are still inconclusive in terms of nutritional value. Some researchers state there is no evidence of superior nutritional content. Others state that the claim of higher nutritional quality is justified. Despite the continued ambiguity regarding nutritional content, many consumers base their decision to purchase organic products on factors other than just nutritional data. These may include ecological benefits, reduced exposure to pesticides, superior taste, or solidarity with the philosophy behind organic agriculture.
Organic farmers must follow USDA regulations for not contaminating crops, soil or water with plant nutrients, pathogens, heavy metals, synthetic residues or other inputs which have detrimental effects on environmental systems. Organic farming practices protect against nutrient leaching, water runoff, and soil erosion. They build soil organic matter and fertility; support biodiversity; and promote ecologically-based pest management.
For more on this, visit the USDA’s website.
References and Resources for More Information
100 Mile Diet: 13 Lucky Farmers’ Market Tips
California Certified Farmers’ Markets
Extension's Role with Farmers' Markets: Working with Farmers, Consumers, and Communities
Fake, Cindy, Kim Ingram and Carol Perrine. 2005. Organic Produce, Certified Farmers Markets, and You. UCCE Placer & Nevada consumer brochure.
Food, Fuel, and Freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions, by Rich Pirog, et al
Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews
Foothills Farmers’ Market Association
Mass Natural by Michael Pollan, The New York Times
National Organic Program (NOP)
Nevada City Farmers’ Market
Nevada County Growers’ Market
New Farm Stand Regulations Expand Options, UC Small Farm Program
Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides
Small Organic Farmers Pull Up Stakes
USDA Official Farmers Market Directory
USDA National Agricultural Library: Organic Agriculture's Conservation Focus: Selected Research Publications 2005-2006, by Mary V. Gold
USDA National Agricultural Library: Should I Purchase Organic Foods?, by Mary V. Gold