With summer in full swing, we’re loving the seasonal availability of fresh, local produce. We reached out to local farmer Cristina Cosentino with Green City Growers to chat about steps you can take to become a more engaged buyer during your next fruit-and veggie-seeking venture at the farmer’s market.
Tell us a little about your farming background and your role with Green City Growers (GCG).
I’ve been working in agriculture for about 7 years, on farms of varying scale that produce a range of fruits, vegetables and pasture-raised proteins. I now work at Green City Growers, a Massachusetts-based company that transforms underutilized spaces into productive landscapes that yield hyper-local food for our clients. We have farm sites all over the Northeast, including Fenway Park’s rooftop farm and the largest rooftop farm in New England at Whole Foods in Lynnfield, MA. I’m currently managing DeCotis Farm in New England, where we grow produce for an on-site FLIK cafe just feet from where it is served.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become more informed and more deliberate when buying local foods? Where would you start?
I’d say the first thing you have to ask yourself is what’s most important to you. Maybe you’re passionate about humane working conditions for farm staff or you want to make sure the farm goes above and beyond with environmentally friendly practices. Maybe you’re looking for a site with a zero-spray policy or you’re really looking for additional third-party certifications, like Certified Organic or Certified Biodynamic. Whatever it is, it will be very helpful to do some homework on the topic before shopping to understand what types of practices, certifications, and barriers are out there and how to navigate labels.
With that in mind, what are some examples of questions consumers can ask their farmers to become more educated buyers?
As farmers, we love talking about our farms, practices, and how to prepare the food we grow; this is our passion. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and really “dig deep!” Here are a few questions I would start off with.
1. Where is your farm located?
This simple question allows us, the farmers, to introduce you to our operation on a broad scale. You can ask follow-up questions about size and scale, what crops are grown, soil management practices, and even about visiting the site— many of us love showing customers first-hand.
2. What farm practices are you most proud of?
Farmers at most markets are very willing to be transparent about their practices. As noted above, some farms without certifications may still be practicing organic growing, or even beyond. Give farmers a chance to fill you in on what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it’s affecting their business and product. Everyone loves being recognized for their hard work, so give them a chance to brag! You’ll likely learn a thing or two, too.
3. Does your farm have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program?
CSA’s are one of the best and most mutually beneficial ways to support local agriculture. Most CSA’s cost an annual fee that is paid up-front and provides farmers with much-needed financial capital at the start of the season when they need it. In return members receive weekly bundles of fresh produce throughout the entire harvest season. CSAs allow you to invest in a farm you believe in, gain access to the freshest produce out there (usually picked that day), and experiment with new varieties and preparation methods.
4. What are your favorite ways to prepare this produce/meat?
If there’s one thing farmers know, it’s how to prepare a given fruit or vegetable in a lot of different ways— this is absolutely essential in the middle of harvest season, when we’re gathering more produce than we’d know what to do with otherwise! We’re in the business because we’re passionate about food and about the earth, so let us share our passions with you!
At the heart of all of this is the theme of supporting your neighbors at local farms and increasing your involvement in your community. With this in mind, you just might find that the food you’re eating not only tastes great but also makes you feel even better.
Read all of FARMER CRISTINA COSENTINO OF GREEN CITY GROWERS interview on the FLIK blog here.