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3 things to look for from your local farmer

Ever since we turned in our farm proposal, we've been thinking carefully about how we want to present ourselves to the public. From developing a formal farm visit policy to what kind of signs are on the property to wording on the website. And how we interact with social media. That's huge.

Combined with a few conversations with others about how a consumer can decide about the ethics of their food, I decided to write up a quick little 3 part guide to help with communication. Does your producer pass the basic "sniff" test?

--The farm should have a way to contact them. Obviously, if you're speaking to your local farmer at the weekly farmer's market it's a little easier to ask questions. But it's 2015. Most good farms will have a website, e-mail address, Twitter handle, Facebook page, some way to contact them. Chances are a farm you can't reach with questions isn't a farm covering all the bases in other areas. And not a farm you want to buy from. Note that this doesn't mean it's a customer service hotline. If it's a small family farm, they can't be available 24-7 to talk to you. But I find that most farmers respond to e-mail within 24-48 hours.

--The farm should be open and honest about what they do and why they do it. If you ask if they grow any organic strawberries, you should get a polite response even if they're growing conventional. If you ask if the produce has been sprayed, they should let you know when they did it and what they were spraying for. If we inject our sheep to protect against common parasites, we're going to let our customers know. We wouldn't do it if we didn't think there was a good reason and we should be able to explain that to a consumer. But we should also be listening.

--The farm should be responsive to concerns or recommendations. Too many farms these days are "educating" about agriculture rather than having a two-way dialogue with customers. If a customer has a request, preference, or is trying to give a grower a window into what they expect from that producer, it's a great time for a good farm to take that to heart. The farm you're buying from should want to hear about what you'd like to see them grow next season, what you really liked this season and want more of, and can take both positive and negative feedback as a tool to modify their operations for the future.

If you're purchasing from a farm that is easy to contact and wants to hear your opinion about what they're doing, it's not a bad indicator that you've got a business you should build a relationship with because they're doing it right.

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