LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- At a growing rate, Arkansas shoppers are ditching the produce section of the grocery store and heading to farmers markets where they're getting fresher, local produce. But is it really local? How do you know? THV11 looked into it.
When shopping at farmers markets, you’re sold on a promise of getting that produce straight from the farm.
“I love fresh produce. I wait all year for tomatoes that don’t taste like cardboard,” said shopper, Terri Elliot.
Farmers markets are seemingly growing across the state. A three year project in Benton is now coming to fruition, a new farmers market getting ready for business.
“They will be given the opportunity to come in and sell produce just like a traditional farmers market, but we will also be scheduling many other venues to be a part of it,” said Benton Mayor David Mattingly.
The US Department of Agriculture says Arkansas has more than 100 registered farmers markets and the U of A Division of Agriculture tells THV11 that a recent survey shows a majority of the state's farmers markets are seeing a rise in both customers and vendors. 56 percent of markets in the survey showed serving more customers in the 2016 marketing year than previous years and 43 percent increased the number of vendors.
"Especially over the last two years, a huge trend in people wanting to eat healthier," said Carrie Teeter with the Baptist Health Farmers Market.
Teeter said that Baptist Health opened their own farmers market three years ago to make fresh an option.
“These farmers markets give you the opportunity to get produce that was picked sometimes the morning of, so it is so fresh and it really does taste completely different from something that's been sitting on a store shelf for several days," said Teeter.
With agriculture being the state’s largest industry, the growing popularity is great news for farmers.
“We grow everything from seed. We start in our green house in January and grow it a little bit and transport it in the field. We take a lot of care in our produce," said Mollie Tanner with Tanner Farm.
Before you pick up any tomato at a market thinking its Arkansas grown there are way to make sure you’re getting what you think.
“You can tell when something has been processed or stuck in a cooler for a couple weeks," said Tanner.
The more farmers markets you go to, the more you'll learn the differences in how Arkansas grown produce looks, but the one sure way to know you’re getting Arkansas grown is getting to know your farmer.
Ask the farmers questions, ask people questions, that’s the number one question we always get, ‘did you actually grow this," said Tanner.
“Talk to them and find out where they’re from and look at the produce, smell it,” said Elliott.
You can also learn when each produce is in season.
“If you’re at a farmers market and someone’s selling strawberries in September, that’s not from Arkansas," said Teeter.
USDA says Arkansas farmers markets have nearly doubled within the last decade and it’s not just here, there's been a 180 percent increase nationwide.