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How do you spot local, sustainable foods at your market? Unless produce is labeled as such, it can be a challenge to support local farmers and identify foods that were sustainably raised. Asking the right questions is key — and Sustainable Table offers some helpful tips for navigating your natural foods store.

Most large and small markets carry at least some local and sustainable foods, so first ask the store manager what he or she can tell you about the sustainably raised products the store carries and where they come from.

  • Are they from small family farms in the area?
  • Does the manager know how the animals were raised or how the vegetables were grown?
  • Does he or she know the names of the farms and where they are located?

There’s a good chance the manager (or in the case of meat, the butcher) will know about their products. But if they can’t answer your questions, the manager may need to speak with their distributor. You may also ask for a contact number for the farms or distributors that the store works with to find out how the products were raised.

A few questions to ask include the following:

  • Who raises the cows, and where is the farm located? Are the cows raised on pasture and fed anything other than grass? Are the cows ever given antibiotics, hormones, or steroids?
  • How is the poultry raised, and where is the farm located? Are the animals caged? How much time do they spend outdoors each day? What is the poultry fed, and are they ever given antibiotics or growth promoters?
  • Where are the vegetables grown, and how big is the farm? Does the farmer use chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers on the crops? Are any of the fruit or vegetable varieties genetically engineered? Does the farm grow any heirloom varieties?

Your local market will listen — if enough customers ask questions about sustainably raised products, store managers will respond by stocking them. Just be sure to buy them when they’re in stock! And if there isn’t a large selection of local options, you’ll always find organic frozen vegetables and meats raised without antibiotics or hormones.

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