Don't buy beef at a farmer's market

Ok, ok - I wrote the headline in part to get attention.

But the truth is that I don’t/won’t buy meat at a farmer’s market - unless, that is, I know the farmer I’m buying from.

I’ve had mixed luck at farmer’s markets. I’m not talking about meat that was spoiled or had “gone bad.” But I’ve bought meat that didn’t taste good, or was too tough. Frankly, it just didn’t meet my picky standards. (Once, I even had a farmer - who knew me - tell me he wouldn't sell me some chicken because “it’s not real good.” Wait, I thought, it’s here in his stall and he’s ready to sell it - but just not to someone he knows?)

Maybe you’ve decided you want to eat better food from local farms. Good for you, but  it turns out - that was the easy part. The hard part is finding local farms, with good locally grown natural practices that can easily get their products into your kitchen.

What’s important to you? Humane treatment? No antibiotics? 100% Grass Fed?

It’s not always an easy quest - but it is worth it.

The most reliable way to do this for some products, for some of the year is farmers markets. I think farmers markets are great - but they have two big limitations. The first issue is seasonality - you’re only going to get produce during the growing season. And, second like I said, I don’t think they’re a great place to buy locally raised meat.

How do you know if a product at a farmers market is any good? For produce, of course, you can largely tell the quality by the appearance. (You know how a good tomato is supposed to look and smell!) But how do you know if the frozen chicken in the back of the farmer’s truck is good (not much to smell there).

For protein products like beef and chicken, I recommend shopping the same way you do for many products. Do a Google search. Explore farm websites. Ask your friends.

Before you buy local meat, look for answers to these questions:

On the farm website do they talk about the  taste and quality of their products (chicken or beef)?

Does the website feel professional? I don’t expect great quality products from a farm with trash in their front yard or junk everywhere. In 2019, a website is a farm’s front yard - and it should reflect on the care the farm puts into every aspect of their business - including their meat.

Do they invite you to visit the farm - or at least show pictures of their operation on the website?

How “customer friendly” are they? Do they accept credit cards and provide home delivery?

Do they provide an easy way to reach them?

Can you buy products on the website?

These days when I’m shopping online, customer reviews are a big factor in helping me make decisions. So it goes with farms - read the reviews on Google and Facebook! These are tamper-proof reviews from real customers like yourself.

Are there enough reviews? (Three reviews from somebody with the same last name is not what you’re looking for.)

Do the reviews talk about the things you care about? Humane treatment, or the quality and flavor of the meat, or customer service?

Treat this buying experience just like you would any 21st century shopping and you’re bound to connect with a high-quality, reliable, pork or chicken or, even, beef farmer who will fill your freezer with great products.