CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A healthy trend that's taking over at grocery stores, farmers markets and dinner tables is eating local, for both the nutritional value of produce and the idea of supporting local farmers. But how do you know you're getting what you pay for? That something was grown nearby and without harmful pesticides? And who is regulating what is sold at popular weekly farmers markets?
From May through October you'll find city centers and gathering places populated with farmers markets every week. Farmers head into town to sell their goods to hungry canvas tote-totting shoppers.
"I feel like it's fresh and it helps the local economy here," said Tremont Farmers Market shopper, Christine McCormick.
"Am I going to buy stuff at the supermarket that's been carted all the way from California? This stuff looks good. It tastes good. I know it's just been picked," said Stephen Michaelides, a fellow shopper.
But how do you you know that that is in fact the case, and that the produce at any given stand hasn't been brokered, or bought at an auction to be falsely marketed as local, organic, or certified?
"Anybody can put up a tent," expressed shopper Carolina Martin.
In Ohio, the Department of Agriculture requires farmers markets to register with the state and vendors must comply with USDA food regulations. Inspectors come to the markets to make sure those regulations are followed. But markets are not required to be certified producer only, meaning farms selling their own product directly to consumers. So produce can be brokered or resold.
"Do you really want to support somebody who doesn't know what they're doing?" Martin said.
Kevin Leamer with Por-Bar Farm near Medina, says he's run into problems with local farmers' markets not cracking down on wholesale produce. That could mean produce has been in several different hands, and might be a week or more old by the time it makes it into your hands.
"You're not going to buy a car off a car lot with 80 different brands and not wonder why this one's so much cheaper. Why would you not want to know the quality of the food you're eating?"
Leamer says it's not simply about supporting local farmers, it's about getting the healthiest food available.
"The minute I pick this off the vine it starts to lose its nutritional value," he said.
And shoppers want to know if the fruits and vegetables have been treated with chemicals.
"I put these in the bellies of my grand kids so I have to know what's going on," Martin said.
North Union Farmers Markets nine different locations saw more than half a million shoppers last year. The non-profit's own bi-laws require them to be certified producer only.
"We go to the farm, and certify, look at their seed orders, take a look at their land to ensure that they were growing what they're selling," said Executive Director, Donita Anderson.
They draw up contracts with farmers within 100 miles, and enforce them through on site inspections, evicting those who don't comply.
"If we see something different than they put on their list, we go and talk to them about it. We're going to have to come right back out to the farm," she said.
Kevin Swope, of Heritage Lane Farms in Columbiana County, brings everything from fresh bouquets, to eggs, bison meat and a wide variety of produce to the Shaker Square Farmers Market every Saturday.
Most of their production takes place in their high tunnels which help them with early harvest and extended seasons. He says they get a lot of inquires about pesticides.
"We don't want to eat that so we're not putting it on our food either," Swope said.
They're not certified organic, but they rarely use it, he says.
"We need to be honest with people. The worst thing that we can do is break that honesty and integrity of the farmers market," said Swope.
Part of being a smart shopper and getting what you pay for is knowing what's grown locally and when. Right now you're going to be seeing a lot of peas and beans at the farmers market. But if you see tomatoes in April, unless they're grown hydroponically it's probably a red flag.
Customers are now getting more vocal, and demanding that markets crack down on the way food is marketed and sold.
"They'll ask the farmer straight to their face, did you really grow this? When did you harvest it?" said Leamer.
"You can kind of feel whether they are being honest or not," said Martin.
And some say word of mouth, asking questions, and doing your own research are the best ways to ensure the safety and integrity of your food.
"Once you've earned their trust, you are their farmer. And that's a good feeling for us," Swope said.