Want to get the most out of your market experience and make yourself every vendor’s favorite customer? Keep It Real Food Co. had its beginning in farmer’s markets, and it’s how we built our customer base. While we won’t be selling at farmers markets this year, many other awesome vendors will be. We want you to get out there and make yourself their favorite customer. Here are 10 ways to do it:
1. Talk! Just not forever.
One of the best things about shopping at a farmers market is getting to know the people who produce your food. Make it a goal to stop at every booth in the market over the course of the season. Ask a few genuine, non-confrontational questions to find out what sets each vendor apart and take advantage of the knowledge provided by somebody at the heart of the business. If you don’t want to purchase anything, asking “are you here every week?” is a great note to leave on.
2. Bring cash! And not just $20s.
Vendors love customers who pay in cash. While many vendors take credit cards, not all of them do, and credit card companies take a hefty chunk of each transaction. Any cash is appreciated, but breaking down $20s fresh from the ATM on the corner quickly depletes the cash box. And speaking of depleting cash supplies…
3. Be prepared for higher prices!
The goods being sold at farmers markets SHOULD cost more than what’s being sold in the grocery store, and not just because they are high quality. Most vendors are small businesses on small budgets. Plus, think of the time and energy that goes into loading up the van, driving to the market, paying for a stall, setting up, and manning a booth for most of the day. If you have sticker shock after tasting that awesome cheese, please, keep the puppy eyes to yourself. Nobody is getting rich at the farmers market — we promise!
4. Idealism is great! But too much is not.
What? You’re upset that the coconut oil in that gluten free, vegan brownie isn’t fair trade, organic AND local? Take a deep breath and think about that sentence. We love local foods too, but we choose coconut oil because of its health benefits — but coconuts grow in the tropics! And while many small farms might follow organic practices, they can’t afford to be certified organic.
Some vendors might have bags for you, but most won’t. Not only is it best to avoid plastic, you don’t want to turn into that customer juggling way too many excellent goods — setting them down on the table to count cash, losing your local honey in piles of kale. Bring a big, sturdy bag with handles. Or bring a wheeled cart but…
6. Watch your cart and kids!
Part of the joy of farmers markets is how communal it is. You’re out in the sunshine having a short, friendly chat with a farmer, paying in exact change and sliding those purchases into the bag you brought from home, and then…the dog gets away from your kid who lets go of the wagon which knocks over a display of $8/dozen eggs. Keep tabs on your stuff and be patient with those around you.
7. Samples aren’t snacks.
Samples are fun, and it’s okay to want some! If you’re genuinely interested in a product, go ahead and ask for a sample. But remember that the market isn’t your personal snack spread, or your kid’s next meal.
8. Vendors are people too!
And just like you, they like sunny days at the market, drinking piña coladas, and not having their products get caught in the rain. Farmers markets mean small business or small farms and sometimes not everything is available and perfectly ripe when you need it. Feedback is helpful, but complaining to the vendor isn’t. Remember, we’re all in this together!
9. Be kind to the goods!
It’s fine to test produce for ripeness, but be gentle. Ask vendors how to tell if produce is ready. You might learn some great tips for making your market haul last longer. Squeezing too hard, poking, dropping, licking, and tasting means products can’t be sold or won’t last until the next day. Vendors are depending on the sales of each item.
10. Don’t believe the myths!
There’s a common misconception about getting the best deals at markets: Go early to avoid the crowds, shop late to get the best deals. But that’s not always true. If you go so early that vendors are still setting up, they’ll tell you to come back later. In some markets, they can be penalized for selling before the official start time. As for going late to get good deals? For the most part, vendors are planning to pack things up and sell it the next day, or donate it to food banks. Asking a vendor for a discount puts them in an uncomfortable position. Remember, this is their livelihood!
Those are our top ten tips for being the perfect farmers market customer. What are yours?
Now go out there and support your local farms!