I’m lucky enough to live up the street from our community farmers market. As I watch the crowds swell each Saturday, I wonder: What are the biggest customer dos and don’ts from a farmer’s perspective? In other words, is there such a thing as farmers market etiquette? Turns out, there is! I asked Rachel Tayse Baillieul, the blogger behind Harmonious Homestead and a co-owner of Swainway Urban Farm, a fixture at our local farmers market, for her insider take.
by Rachel Tayse Baillieul
Visiting a farmers’ market can be like stepping back in time to a celebration of fresh, beautiful foods sold directly from the farmer. I’m one of ‘those’ foodies who shops farmers’ markets weekly, even on vacation. In 2012, I began working behind the table as part of Swainway Urban Farm, an organic specialty vegetable grower in Columbus, Ohio.
With over 150 markets under my belt, I know the ins and outs of farmers marketing. In that time, I’ve experienced every bit of good (and bad) behavior from customers trying to navigate the sometimes crowded scene. Keep your farmer happy and reap the benefits of a pleasant market day by following these tips:
1. Come Early.
I know how nice it is to sleep in on the weekend, or at least I think I remember from my pre-farming days. But if you want my best selection and my happiest attitude, come towards the beginning of the market. Markets are less crowded at the beginning and you can use that time to get to know the farmers.
2. Read The Signs.
Good farms describe their wares in writing, sometimes in several places throughout the booth. We appreciate it when you take a moment to read about our prices and varieties. We enjoy questions, but do get tired of repeating the same information.
3. Chat Mindfully.
I LOVE to talk about gardening. I want to hear about my customer’s pet projects. I enjoy supporting causes. But ultimately, farmers’ market time is about selling what I’ve grown to make money. If I’m sold out or hanging around after market, it’s a great time to start a conversation about a non-market event or gardening trouble spot. If you want to chat during market, though, I’ll likely have to cut the conversation short when another customer comes by. Value my time by suggesting a separate meeting time if I’m busy.
4. Mind The Line.
Farmers do want to sell everything, but we don’t want a long line that gets in the way of other farmers or customers. If you approach when there’s a line, try to use your waiting time to pull out correct change (assuming the farmer has price signs, see number two) and have your bags ready to go. Respect your fellow customers by making transactions short and sweet if the booth is busy. And please find a slower time to stop by if you have an in-depth question (see number three).
5. Only Touch YOUR Food.
We work hard to practice safe food handling, including hand washing and sanitizing harvest tools and containers. It’s easy to spread germs to fresh food at dense farmers’ markets, especially with so much exchange of cash. Do you want to buy food that other customers have fondled? My assumption is no, so to keep everyone safe, I usually discard food that someone touches but does not buy, at a loss. It’s preferable that you “look with your eyes” and coach your children to do the same.
6. Ask Favors Respectfully.
My favorite customers are like family – I’ll hold their purchase in my cooler, set special orders aside, and sometimes even accept payment a week late. But those favors don’t come from demands. They begin with consistent purchases and friendly polite requests. Most farmers are happy to offer special services to regular customers when they are asked nicely.
7. Buy Me A Coffee.
You may think that a 9 am opening bell at a farmers’ market is early, but even us urban farmers who grow food mere miles from the market location must rise hours before to take care of livestock, pack vehicles, unload, and set up. I’m often running on fumes by 11 am on Saturday, and I can’t imagine how farmers who come from outside the city feel. Not every vendor drinks coffee, of course, but we all appreciate a little patience and understanding towards the end of our busiest morning of the week.
8. Tell Us How You Cook Our Food.
I’m excited when a customer tells me about a new recipe they tried using something I grew. Share an old family recipe and I’m over the moon. While we do earn money at the market, what every vendor wants most is to feed people well.
Rachel Tayse Baillieul is a co-owner of Swainway Urban Farm and co-founder of the Columbus Agrarian Society. A former teacher who fell into farming because she loves to be outside, Rachel shares stories about her DIY family at Harmonious Homestead.