Published on 05/31/12

Snails in the kale?

By Donn H Cooper

Farmers markets offer the best of local, fresh produce throughout Georgia. But all those mouth-watering vegetables straight from the field sometimes come with slimy little surprises — bugs.

Sustainable farmers markets

Finding insects on produce is usually more common at sustainable farmers markets, where growers steer away from pesticides or opt for those with limited potency.

Louise Estabrook manages the Riverside Farmers Market in Roswell, Ga. She says the farmers at her market, which averages 2,000 customers per Saturday, don’t use pesticides and try to operate according to organic standards, although they are not certified.

Corn earworms

Estabrook often sees problems with corn and corn earworms, which commonly only feed on the tips of the corn ear.

In the past, customers who are not accustomed to buying fresh vegetables or shopping at a farmers market have complained saying, “I’m never buying that corn again because there are worms in it!”

But Estabrook, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Fulton County, sees this as an educational opportunity.

A chance to learn

“It’s kind of gross, and people who are used to shopping at supermarkets are not used to coming face-to-face with a big, fat, greasy corn earworm until they shop local and nonpesticide,” Estabrook said. “It’s a learning opportunity for them, and they have to understand there’s that balance.”

Specifically, she tries to teach customers that if they don’t want pesticides, then they might have to deal with a worm or two. Even then, it normally only stays on the top and doesn’t go through the rest of the kernels.

What’s more, she reminds them that the corn they buy at the supermarket has been cleaned, stripped of the husk, packaged in plastic and the tips removed.

“They just cut the worm off for you, and you pay more for that,” Estabrook said.

After their brief education, she says customers tend to go back and buy the corn.

Standards of quality

Overall, the chances of finding bugs or extensive bug damage at farmers markets are slim, whether the market is sustainable or conventional.

“These farmers take pride in their harvest and only bring their best to market. The farmers I know also follow rigorous post-harvest procedures to ensure their produce is clean and safe for their customers,” said Amanda Tedrow, who is an ex-officio member of the board of directors of the Athens Farmers Market in Athens, Ga. Tedrow is also the UGA Extension agent in Athens-Clarke County.

Tempest Coney sells mustard greens for her grandparents at the more conventional downtown farmers market in Tifton, Ga.

She says that customers don’t have to worry about bugs from their 10-acre farm in Fitzgerald, Ga.

Tempie and Harold Coney, who make up TC Coney Vegetables, have a wealth of experience from growing vegetables all of their lives, and they’ve been selling to a grocery store in Sylvester, Ga. for almost a dozen years, said Coney.

On the farm, their produce receives a thorough soaking before harvest. It’s then washed three times after harvest to remove all insects and dirt, before being placed in the cooler. If a customer does find a bug, Coney offers refunds and replacement orders.

Another vendor at the Tifton market, Phaustine Powell-Marshall of Powell Farms in Irwin County, has the same commitment to customer satisfaction. But she also cautions that folks shouldn’t be shocked if they do come across a six-legged stowaway.

“On fresh vegetables,” she said, “you’re going to find bugs.”

To locate a farmers market near you, visit the Georgia Market Maker website at

Donn Cooper is a former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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