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Fresh washing – Not so fresh, local, or delicious

Lettuce-on-moon

Most often than not the greens you purchase in the produce section at your local grocery store are not as fresh, local, and certainly not as delicious as they could be. This may hold true for other local Farm market stores and even local Farmer’s markets.

People Want Fresh produce

People are spending more time in the kitchen. They want fresher produce and healthier options. Food delivery searches are at an all-time high. The pandemic also put a strain on grocery stores when supply chains were disrupted. This crisis has made us reexamine how we get our food and where it comes from. More companies like Farmoponics are trying to make supply chains shorter.

So when the local grocery store isles label your produce as fresh are your leafy greens lying to you?

“Well, It’s just lettuce.”

Those are the words we’re hearing from some consumers in the three main places people buy lettuce here at the Jersey Shore: the produce aisle, farm markets, and farmer’s markets. The fact is, we don’t blame you, the produce aisle is not nearly as simple and straightforward as it seems — possibly even deliberately so — and simple marketing tactics are confusing consumers into getting subpar lettuce everywhere.

It’s a trend we’re calling “fresh washing,” a term that we’ll thoroughly explore below. Plus, we’ll show you a clear alternative for produce buying that is sure to delight your taste buds and enrich your life.

Produce Aisle Fresh washing

The grocery store is one of the friendliest places conceivable but to those in the know you can start to see a whole new world beyond the smiling faces of greeters and cashiers happy to help you take your bags to your car.

In fact, there is a constant real estate war going on in the aisles of your store. The weapon of choice in the produce department? Fresh washing and a brand new dictionary of words that marketers aren’t letting you in on.

What is fresh washing?

Fresh washing is the use of confusing product placement, packaging, and wording to mislead customers into buying lower-quality produce.

If you follow consumer rights, environmentalism, or even read the news now and again you might already be familiar with a term called “greenwashing.” This is the practice of making products appear greener than they are to increase corporate profits. The classic example was “eco-friendly” cleaning products that included “all natural” vinegar. Yes, vinegar is natural (though still manmade) but adding a few ounces of vinegar to your chemical soup doesn’t make it any more palatable to people wanting a greener cleaning product solution.

Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission has made laws to reduce greenwashing. Yet, as we’ll soon see, the ability to fresh wash remains completely intact. Using mimicry wording, fresh washers are confusing and tricking customers. In other words, a whole lettuce plant and a declaration of ‘FRESH’ doesn’t mean you’re getting what you think your getting.

Don’t Get ‘Fresh’ With Me!

“But my lettuce says fresh!” That’s true, and a tricky part of the overall equation. However, it all comes down to some word lawyering and definitions that suit marketers more than consumers. Here’s how ‘fresh’ is defined by the Food Industry Association (FMI) and Deloitte:

“Fresh food is food that has not been preserved and has not yet spoiled.” – FMI and Deloitte

As consumers, we identify more with Merriam Webster’s top definition for fresh, “having its original qualities unimpaired,” over Big Ag’s “not rotten.” However, even if what you’re getting isn’t the absolute freshest, at least it is local, right? That means that it didn’t travel too far to get to the grocery store and didn’t have too much time to get away, right? Think again!

Local?

Here’s a fun game: Next time you go to the grocery store and pick up some “local” produce, read the label for the farm address or search for the company in your maps app. If they’re local, you’ll see them, right? Good luck with that! Local to me means no more than 15 miles or the next town over, not 100 miles and the next state or more!

Much like the aisle placement struggles that put Beyond Meat products in the regular meat area, it turns out that your grocery store’s “local” section can suffer from the same phenomenon. While some of the products in the local section are kind of local, others are from big brands that are able to negotiate their way in. Check the packaging’s small print and prepare to be surprised when the West coast counts as “local” all the way over here in New Jersey!

We’ve scoured over the Ocean County Regional Agricultural Map and found very few leafy greens & vegetable producers in the area. Historically, most of our produce comes from California, Arizona, or even Brazil. Now we’re seeing an influx of supply from Canada and upstate NY. Our most “local” lettuce comes from Massachusetts or upstate NY! We don’t consider that local. A few select commercial hydroponic growers have facilities in North or West NJ. That’s not local either.

A Touch of Plastic Looks Good on You

It’s true that the freshest, local lettuce will come from the local section even if not all of it is what it seems. But, once again, everything is not as it seems and it’s easy to get confused by the containers your lettuce comes in. Here’s a grocery store trip we’ve seen time and time again:

You see an array of soft bags and hard clamshells, nearly all of them being pre-washed. The bags of pre-cut lettuce don’t appeal to you, they’re probably days from going soggy. What you’re after is good, fresh lettuce, such as what you might find in the harder clamshell containers. Some even have full lettuce heads, plus roots on the bottom. You pick up the two best-looking ones.

On the right, you’ve got a clamshell of lettuce proudly displayed for $2.99, and on the left one for $4.99. They both say ‘FRESH’ or “GREENHOUSE GROWN” in big shiny letters. The one on the left also says Hydroponically grown with No pesticides, fungicides, or GMO but they pretty much look the same, and you’re a thrifty shopper so you purchase the one on the right. You get home and make your favorite Cobb salad only to realize your, just purchased, tasteless lettuce is stale, drier than expected, and starts to go limp and slimy within the week! Congratulations, you’re a victim of fresh washing!

Getting to the ROOT of the problem…

When I think about tasty roots, I think of carrots. Nobody eats lettuce roots, but containers of full lettuce plants with roots on them have started popping up everywhere. What’s the deal?

When you buy legitimately fresh, hydroponically grown lettuce you’ll see a head of lettuce and some roots dangling at the bottom. That’s because it is the easiest way to pull lettuce plants out of their soilless hydroponic growing containers. Roots also keep plants from going stale for longer by reducing water loss. What they don’t do is increase freshness.

Unfortunately, fresh washers have taken note and are imitating the “roots on” look and clamshell carrier to make their produce seem super fresh. Here’s a secret, the roots keep the plants from going stale longer, but don’t make them any fresher. The fact is, as soon as lettuce plants leave their growth medium, the whole plant starts to dry and die.

Don’t let seeing roots confuse you into thinking you have found a product that is fresher than other products.

Keeping roots on the plants stalls the drying process and we legitimately love that more and more farmers are shipping plants this way, but time will still take its toll on your veggies. Remember that recently picked produce holds more nutrients — the source of lettuce’s good flavor — than long-ago shipped plants.

Other Dirty Words

Alright, so we hate how “fresh” and “local” are used, but that’s the end of it, right?

Unfortunately not!

Other phrases to confuse the unknowing consumer include “greenhouse-grown” or “hydroponically grown.” This is strictly a marketing ploy, and is the Big Ag equivalent of a plumber advertising skills with pipes as all mid-summer and winter lettuce in New Jersey is greenhouse or hydroponically grown. Before the advent of Controlled Environmental Agriculture, it was ALL lettuce grown in hot or cold climate seasons was greenhouse grown!

Further trickery includes some classic examples of lying by omission. Look at your packaging carefully for the following phrases:

  • No Pesticides
  • No Herbicides
  • No GMO seeds
  • No Fungicides

If they’re absent, you can bet that’s exactly what they are using.

The Local Farmers Market Imposter (Farm Market)

If you’ve driven by a local ‘Farm Market’ strip mall store and thought the spelling was a sus form of “Farmer’s Market” you were onto something. No farmers in there. The local Farm Market is, indeed, a form of an imposter.

A farm market, as defined by Law Insider, is a place that has at least 51% of its sales from output by its own commercial farm. The other 49%? Anybody’s guess. And, who is to say which is which?

Farmer’s Market Follies

The third place you might think of to get produce is the local town farmer’s market. While generally accepted as better, it isn’t always the case.

Over 85% of vendors come from within 50 miles of the farmer’s market they sell at, but to get the full story you’ll have to talk to the market manager. Some farmer’s markets allow vendors to sell goods they don’t produce or stuff they got from elsewhere. It can really be a mixed bag!

Another fun one that you’ll run into from time to time is the “farm stand.” You’ve probably seen them on roadsides. Marketwatch’s farm stand exposé is worthy of an intensive read, but the words of New England chef, Frank McClelland, are particularly on point:

“I cringe when I see a whole stand’s worth of goods from somewhere else.” – Frank McClelland, New England chef

So if the grocery store, farm markets, and farmer’s markets can all get confusing, where are you to go for a truly local, picked-to-deliver experience?

Actually Fresh Lettuce and Greens from Farmoponics

To ensure that you’re getting the very best in lettuce, leafy greens, and micro greens you need to buy from a truly local farm like Farmoponics. We’ve always got a new variety of greens for you to try and our new insulated grow facility is growing truly fresh greens 24/7/365 days a year. Yes, even during the snowstorms of winter, the floods in spring, and the heatwaves of summer we keep growing fresh lettuce, leafy greens, and micro greens. Don’t get fresh washed, order fresh local, and delicious today and get super fresh greens delivered to your door within hours of harvest!

Closed for Winter

See you in the Spring!