A Short Primer On Farmers’ Market Etiquette.
It was a mild mid-spring day and Nancy Skall of Middleton Farm had a few baskets of rare French strawberries for sale. Each basket held a precious clutch of maybe 15 of the delicate, tiny things—so fragile that they would need to be consumed that day.
“May I taste one?” asked a prospective customer. Skall, a farm market veteran, hesitated as she searched for a polite way to say no. She shook her head kindly. “But you can smell them,” she offered, lifting the basket toward the man’s nose. He took a deep, appreciative whiff, nodded thanks, and moved on.
The normal rules of politesse were observed in this exchange: He asked nicely, she found a solution with her denial, and he thanked her. But the rules of farm market politesse can sometimes be trickier than Emily Post might have reckoned. With help from Sebastopol Farmers Market manager Paula Downing, we came up with few standards to shop by . . .
1.You may eat samples.
They’re easy to see, usually presented as cut-up pieces replete with toothpicks to spear them. You may not eat one perfect French strawberry from a tiny clutch of rare things; if you’re unsure, remember: berry baskets rarely hold samples.
2. There’s no rush.
If you’re squeezing your purchase into an eight-minute window of time before dropping baby Oona off at knitting and picking little Johan up from surfing, you should go to a grocery store. The farm markets set a different pace. Downing recommends that you even take the drastic step of leaving your cell phone at home. Imagine!
3. Don’t hoard your change.
Every stall expects its customers to come laden with $20 bills and every stall has small bills on hand to accommodate that. But once you start rolling in the $1s and $5s, it’s time to return the love right back in the form of small bills and exact change.
4. Nature calls, customers listen.
Sometimes you find just the loaf of bread you’re looking for but there’s no one to sell it to you. Often an adjoining stallmate will handle the transaction, but sometimes, they’re busy or also absent. If you’ve got exact change, it’s OK to leave it tucked where it’s visible but won’t blow away, and take your loaf with you.
5. Talk to your farmer.
“They spend a lot of time working alone and are generally very proud of their products,” Downing says. “Plus, farmers know a lot about growing, plant varieties, gophers, cucumber beetles, all of it. You might get a few tips to use in your own garden.” Of course, Emily Post would also caution you to remember that there may be a line of other people waiting behind you.
6. Bring your own bags.
Re-use produce bags from one market to the next. As long as they haven’t held raw meat or fish that might have leaked, they’re perfectly good to use again.
7. Know where your keys are.
According to Downing, farmers markets are a favorite place for car keys to go AWOL. Check vegetable boxes and under tables if yours have made a break for it.
8. Remember: Real food costs real money.
Downing says, “If you are distressed about the price and feel the need to complain, be prepared to hear about how much work and love goes into bringing the produce to you. This is not a government- or supermarket-subsidized enterprise. These guys are not getting rich. They are earning a living—with ‘earning’ being a really important word.”