If you want the freshest fruits and vegetables, it makes sense to go straight to the nearest farm! But before you buy from a roadside farm stand, experts say there are a few things you need to know:

  • First: The produce sold in farm stands is rarely the best. That’s because farmers tend to sell their freshest, choicest crops to their biggest customers, which includes restaurants, grocery stores, and wholesalers. So, usually what you see at the stand is what’s left-over after everyone else has picked through it.

  • Also: There’s a reason farm stand produce isn’t as crisp as what you’ll find in supermarkets. It’s because supermarket produce is refrigerated, and kept in ideal conditions, immediately after it’s picked, so, apples stay crisp, and greens stay moist. But with farm stands, you have no way of knowing how long the food’s been sitting out in the sun before you buy it.

  • Another thing you should know about farm stands: There’s no guarantee the food’s organic. The words “organic” and “locally grown” do not mean the same thing. Farmers pay thousands of dollars to have their produce certified as “organic,” and that’s an extra expense many small farmers can’t afford, so, if you’re worried about pesticides, you need to ask.

  • Also keep this in mind: Some farm stands no longer have much “farm” in them. For example: Many stands today do big business, selling cookbooks and souvenirs, or offering hayrides, petting zoos, and corn mazes on the side. Critics say all that other stuff takes away from the focus on food, because some small farmers can make more money hosting weddings, for example, than they can selling food! So, there’s no guarantee that what you’re buying is high-quality, or if it even came from the farm.