Getting Ready for the Farmers Market

Farmers markets can be intimidating. Plenty of tie die and piles of vegetables that you may have never seen before. Knowing what is appropriate and what is taboo can be different from stall to stall. However, I’ve compiled a list of things you need to know before embarking on your first farmers market tour.


1. don’t touch, ask first

Some farmers are down with you fondling their produce. Some are not. Just play it safe and ask first. If you are allowed to pick your own produce – handle it gently. Don’t squeeze and prod every one in the pile before choosing.

It’s likely your farmer will be able to pick produce for you based on when you want to consume it.  A melon for next Monday please? Let them work their magic and leave the thumping to them.

2. let them set up the stall

On market day it’s likely whoever is working that stall has already been up for hours. You may have just rolled out of bed and are sipping your first foamy latte but they are probably on their third black coffee.

Farmers have to load up all their produce, drive from the farm to the market, and then begin the tedious process of unloading, setting up tents, tables, and signs. Give them space and let them do their thing. Don’t try to haggle with them over a bunch of kale before they are ready to make a sale.

3. avoid showing up late

It’s true that you can occasionally get better deals towards the end of the day. However, don’t try to haggle with farmers as they are packing the last box of produce into their truck. Be respectful of their time and come during the designated hours the market is meant to be open. Check the market website to see when it is actually open. Hours of operation are given for a reason.

4. bring small bills

Most farmers market stalls in big cities will have a way for you to purchase with your credit card. But be safe and bring cash. Specifically small bills. Don’t try to break a twenty when buying two tomatoes.

5. b.y.o.b.

Bring your own bags! It’s likely most market stalls will have bags for you to carry your produce home in. However, don’t count on it.

Be prepared to try to jam as many cucumbers you can in your cross body bag or bring your own reusable bags. Here are some of my favorites products for carrying produce: BAGGU, Flip and Tumbl. 

6. trying samples

Farmers often love to share slices of a fresh peach or little nibbles of their new spiced chocolate for you to test. If a farmer is handing it for you it’s fine to try!

However, there will be the random table that has crumbled scones on a plate that costs fifty cents. If food is sliced and sitting out without a sign just ask before taking a bite. Sometimes these small samples aren’t free. 

7. double dipping

If a stall is letting you sample their product be aware it wasn’t set out just for you.
I’m talking about double dipping. Just don’t do it.

8. don’t let the dog run wild

Generally people love dogs. It’s expected to see many a furry friend at your local market. But no one wants produce that your dog has bit into. Be aware of where your pets are in relation to the food.

If  your dog pees on their sign, chews on the leg of the table, or straight up makes off with their food…. fix it. It’s understood that accidents do happen. When they do – offer to pay for the damages if any are done.

9. farmers are friendly

Farmers are some of the nicest people I know. Undoubtably, they have one of the hardest jobs in the country. Do not be afraid to ask them what the funny looking vegetable is or how to cook with it.

If they are making the effort to be at your market on a Sunday morning they probably love what they do. But also be respectful of their time. This is their business.

10. children at the market

Farmers markets can be an amazingly interactive place for children. Their senses can be awakened with new sights and smells. It’s likely there will be food there they have never seen before – making it a wonderful learning opportunity.

A place as exciting as a farmers market brings out curiosity in little ones. Talk to them ahead of time about touching or grabbing produce as some farmers would rather they didn’t touch the food. Remember they can always hold it after you buy it.

how to navigate the farmers market:

You have your cash, you brought your bags, and promptly arrived at opening hours. Instead of loitering around the booth with the fresh baked scones take heed to these tidbits of advice and become a farmers’ market guru.

walk around the market

At first glance the amount of food and vendors can be overwhelming. Find an espresso stand and grab yourself an almond milk latte then take a lap while you caffeinate. Several farmers will be selling the same produce. Mull over prices. The next stand over might have a box of equally stunning strawberries for a few dollars cheaper. No need to commit with the first farmer you see.

not all stalls are created equal

While you’re nursing your espresso and weaving through the market take a look at the quality of the produce. Is there yellowing on the greens you are looking at? Do the leaves look heavily wilted? If the heirloom tomato you picked up has a molding stem put it back at move on. However, don’t be afraid of a little dirt or contorted looking vegetables.

If organic produce is important to you try not to overlook the stalls that don’t have certified organic signs. Talk to farmers. Some small farms practice organic standards but can’t afford to have their farm certified. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. Most farmers will happily tell you about their farming practices.

get what you want right away

It’s unlikely that all the potatoes will be gone mid morning. Seasonal and specialty items however can be slim picking by the end of the market. Start your purchases off with specialty or seasonal fruits and veggies that you know you want in your basket.

farmers are friendly

Don’t be afraid to hide your bewildered expression the first time you see garlic scapes or can’t identify what a sunchoke is. Ask the farmer what that funny looking thing is. Go a step further and inquire how to use it in a recipe or cook it in a dish. Some might even offer up a taste before purchasing.

skip the basics

It’s admirable to try and buy a week’s worth of produce locally at your market. However most of us can’t swing a bag of onions and potatoes over our shoulders, nibble on our fresh scone, and pick up the perfect box of berries at the same time. Don’t overwhelm yourself (or your wallet) by getting all the essentials at the market. Start by sticking with fresh seasonal specials that make you feel excited to purchase.

try one new funny looking thing

I try to make a list before heading to market but it’s fun to leave room for some spontaneity. Try purchasing one item you’ve never tried before. I didn’t know my childhood arch enemy (stinging nettles) could make a highly nutritive tea. Be open to trying new things.