It’s farmers’ market season—that much-anticipated time of year when farmers emerge behind displays of flowers and heirloom vegetables, and customers flock to the market clutching their most colorful African baskets. As a former vegetable farmer, I have spent thousands of hours hawking produce at the farmers’ market.
And I can tell you that even the most well-intentioned customers commit some irritating farmers’ market faux pas. So for those of you who aspire to be more conscientious shoppers, I’m going to give you a gift: here are seven tips to avoid driving your farmer crazy this season.
I know the farmers’ market is a sensual experience like no other, and that it seems like all of the strange and shiny vegetables are calling out for you to touch them—but it’s best to refrain from over-handling.
Do you really need to inspect every single bunch of kale to determine which one is a teensy bit bigger than the others? Is it really necessary to squeeze each obviously perfect heirloom tomato to test its ripeness? And let’s talk about this display of tender baby zucchini, the keyword here being tender. If you grab them too ferociously—like, say, those people who trample other people for the newest TV on Black Friday—your jagged little fingernails will literally filet them, and they will turn into sad little logs that no one wants to buy.
It’s also not okay to put your heavy reusable shopping bag (or your toddler) down on top of the market spread.
Haggling is a quick way to crush your farmer’s soul. Your farmer works hard to produce the romanesco broccoli and heritage pork that you need for that Rachel Ray recipe. Depending on the week she’s had, your insensitive haggling will either make her a) spitting angry, or b) want to curl up in the fetal position underneath her market table.
Market prices are not made by throwing a dart at some imaginary jumble of numbers taped to the wall—they’re based on how much actual money it costs to grow food. So do your farmer a favor: choose your vegetable/cut of meat/dog bones/whatever you’re buying, and then take out your wallet and pay whatever it costs without making a counter-offer or saying something rude.
If you have ever haggled a with food producer over the price of something, repeat after me: I, (insert name here), local food enthusiast, will not undermine my farmer’s intelligence and hard work by complaining and/or challenging the cost of his/her products.
The following is an example of an inappropriate request to make of your farmer:
“Oh hey, I reeeeeally want these strawberries, but I need to go pick up the worm castings I ordered and chit chat with the coffee lady and then go hula hoop in the grass over there for awhile, so can you make sure no one else buys them until I get back?”
Don’t get me wrong—dogs are cool. But it is not cool when your dog pees on the produce backstock, chews on the market tent, or makes a mad dash underneath the CSA table to chase a squirrel. A seed grower I know once had a dog lift its leg and destroy an entire rack of seed packets. And—get this—when my seed grower friend asked to be compensated for the ruined product, the dog owner proceeded to defend his dog. This kind of thing makes your farmer want to throw things. The lesson is, if Fido pees on it, chews on it, or knocks it over, you should probably apologize and then buy it.
I know the market is chaotic, but we see you sticking that eggplant in your purse. There’s a special place in farmers market purgatory for the jerk who steals from farmers market vendors. Seriously?! Seriously. That’s all I have to say about that.
Imagine that it’s the busiest time of day at the farmers’ market. Your farmer is working as fast as possible—totalling up orders, restocking product, making change, managing the chaos, and trying to maintain that glowing smile of abundance that everyone expects him to wear all of the time. And then some dude asks for advice on his backyard compost pile. Or wants a historical explanation of heirloom popcorn. Or feels compelled to engage in deep talk about GMOs or chemtrails. Meanwhile, twenty people are waiting behind him in line, seething (with actual smoke coming out of their nostrils), and scanning for a less congested booth.
We love you and you’re special, but your farmer’s time is valuable. Don’t monopolize it.
Farmers’ markets are kind of like a kindergarten class made up of adults, where everyone has weird emotional baggage and highly-developed sensory issues and you sometimes run into your ex-boyfriend and you get to see inside everyone’s wallets. So make sure you say please, thank you, don’t cut in line, don’t yell, don’t be an asshole, ask before you sample, observe the Golden Rule, and maybe we’ll all get out of here alive.
Debbie Weingarten is a writer and a former vegetable farmer based in Tucson, Arizona.