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To Market, To Market: Questions to Make a Farmer’s Heart Sing

Molly Smith, 23, spritzes produce with water to keep it from wilting at the Lebanon Farmers Market table for the Enfield-based Blue Ox Farm on Aug. 22, 2013. (Valley News - Maggie Cassidy)

Molly Smith, 23, spritzes produce with water to keep it from wilting at the Lebanon Farmers Market table for the Enfield-based Blue Ox Farm on Aug. 22, 2013. (Valley News - Maggie Cassidy)

Food news website Civil Eats recently published an article outlining the four questions that farmers hate to be asked during farmers markets. (Hint: Don’t try to weasel a last-minute deal as the market is closing.) I decided to take that list on a stroll around the Lebanon Farmers Market on Thursday, and put a little spin on it: What questions do farmers wish market shoppers would ask them?

I hit the jackpot with Molly Smith, 23, who is working at Enfield-based Blue Ox Farm while she earns a master’s degree in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard University. (In other words, she loves talking about this stuff.) While she could wax academic with the best of them, Smith immediately offered two simple questions that she wishes people would ask her more frequently: “What is this?” and “What can you do with it?”

Just because there’s a bunch of tomatoes laid out in front of you, it doesn’t mean they’re all the same, Smith said — and people tend to forget that. She pointed to a range of different varieties sitting on her market table on Thursday, including New Girl tomatoes (good for sandwiches), Black Prince (strong flavor), Copia (tasty with basil and mozzarella) and others.

“I love being able to point out the different varieties we’ve got,” she said, and she likes introducing people to new foods, too. Have you ever heard of kohlrabi? I sure hadn’t, but Blue Ox Farm sells it, and Smith can tell you how to eat it.

She also enjoys being able to talk about different foods’ many uses. For example, “a lot of people don’t know that you can make kale chips with kale.”

Beyond talking about the food on the table, Smith said she also enjoys talking about where it comes from.

“I wish people asked me more about why we’re organic and why we take so much pride in eating local ,” she said. (I’ll let you ask her for the specifics, but her answers revolve around the environment, the economy and freshness.)

Questions about the farm are good, too: Where is the farm? How many acres do you cultivate? How has your year been?

“I think just meeting your farmer is a wonderful thing,” she said. “When people can understand their farmer, they can appreciate their food more.”

What are the questions you hate getting asked in your profession — and the questions you wish were asked more frequently? Email me at mcassidy@vnews.com.

Posted to the Upper Valley Dispatch blog Monday at 3:40 p.m.