by Matt Lardie
With many area farmers’ markets moving to spring hours and a plethora of produce soon to arrive, this time of year brings an onslaught of new and returning customers eager for some homegrown goodness. I’m an admitted farmers’ market addict, and I’ve seen markets from all sides, as a customer, as a past member of the Board of Directors for South Estes Farmers’ Market in Chapel Hill, and currently as a vendor. Throughout many hours spent at markets across the Triangle, I’ve distilled a few basic rules of etiquette that customers should observe when shopping at a farmers’ market.
1. No dogs. I know this is a hard one for many folks; we all love our dogs and it only seems natural to take them to an open-air event like a farmers’ market. Take a moment to look at it from the vendors’ view, though; dogs can be messy (I’ve seen a dog urinate on a produce display), dogs can get in fights or frighten customers, and dogs can be loud and distracting. Everyone always says, “Oh, not MY little Fido,” but in all honesty you cannot control the environment around your dog or know how it will react in every situation. Additionally, many markets serve ready-to-eat food, and if you can’t take a dog into a restaurant, it would fit that you can’t take your dog to market. Please observe the no-pets rule that most markets have; Fido can wait until you get back home for a bite of that homemade scone.
2. Bring small bills. As a vendor I will tell you that nothing is more frustrating than running out of change halfway through market after breaking $20 bill after $20 bill for customers who might only be purchasing $4 worth of goods. Most vendors usually only have limited amounts of change on them, and if you take their last $5 bill they might lose a sale to the next customer, who also has a $20 but needs change. We are more than happy to break bills when we can, but we’re not the bank (plus, most of us aren’t rich enough to be able to bring $400 in change each week). I always bring $1’s and $5’s to market when I shop, it makes each transaction go quickly and smoothly. If you must break a large bill, try asking at the market manager’s tent first; they usually have petty cash on hand. If all else fails, a simple “Sorry, I only have a $20 bill” usually softens the blow.
3. Get to know your vendor, but don’t monopolize them. Farmers and vendors love getting to know their customers, and it always feels good to know their customers appreciate them. Asking questions about produce, growing practices, recipes, or Farmer Bill’s new granddaughter can go a long way to solidifying a farmer-customer relationship, and might even net you some free goods from a grateful vendor! That being said, be aware of the other customers around you, and don’t take up 20 minutes of the vendor’s time when there is a line of customers waiting patiently to pay for their purchases. If you want to chat longer most vendors are more than happy to give you their e-mail address or even phone number!
4. Spread the word, get involved. This might be the most important rule of all. Farmers’ markets are by their nature low-profit ventures; they usually don’t have a ton of money for fancy ads or commercials to drive customer traffic. Many of the new faces I see at market are referrals from regular customers. Bring a friend to market, talk up the vendor whose carrots your family is raving about, or volunteer to put up flyers. Many markets have organized committees for “Friends of the Market,” and some even have spots on their Board of Directors for community representatives. Chat with the market manager at your favorite farmers’ market and find out what you can do to help. Vendors are only half of the equation of promoting healthy, local food. It takes consumers to purchase, learn about, and advocate for that food to keep the ball rolling!
by Matt Lardie