It's that time of year when many farmers markets are starting to reopen or year-round markets are expanding to accommodate the new spring produce. Do you love the market but are occasionally confused or flustered by all the unknowns — is it OK to sample or to ask a lot of questions or to bring your dog? Or maybe you avoid the market (or your partner does!) because of the crowds and confusion and wish you could have a better experience.
We love our farmers markets here at The Kitchn and at the same time, we get it that sometimes the experience is challenging. So we decided to tap the experts at CUESA, the nonprofit organization that runs San Francisco's iconic Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, for their insider farmers market tricks and tips.
A few years ago, we ran a very popular post on farmers market etiquette:
While our original advice still stands, we were delighted to discover how the dedicated and enthusiastic staff at CUESA gets the most from shopping the market. Here are ten tips for making the most of your farmers market experience and practicing good etiquette too!
1. Make sure you understand what's in season so you have the right expectations.
Brie Mazurek, the Online Education Manager, says, "Get to know what's in season in your area. For example, you won't find tomatoes in the winter in most farmers markets." Many markets have seasonality charts you can look up on their websites.
2. Take advantage of the market's info booth.
Visit your farmers market Info Booth and find out what customer services they offer. (For example, CUESA offers free cooking demos and a Veggie Valet, which allows customers to drop off their veggies and pick them up later.)
3. Come prepared with shopping cart and small bills.
You might want to bring a folding shopping cart if you anticipate a large haul. Bring small bills— farmers always appreciate not having to make change for a large bill. Especially earlier in the day.
4. Bargaining is not really part of the picture.
In general, they discouraged having the expectation that farmers will bargain and emphasized that looking for quality is as important as looking for the best deal. "Stroll through the market first," advises Brie Mazurek, CUESA's Online Education Manager. 'This not only helps you find good deals, but it also helps you see what's in season, what's new and fresh, what's good quality."
5. Leave the dog at home.
Most farmers markets do not allow dogs (except for service dogs) due to health and safety laws.
6. Be respectful of the produce.
Don't squeeze tomatoes, avocados, and fruit. If you're not sure about how ripe something is, ask the farmer to help you. Lulu Meyer, associate director of operations, suggests: "When you see a new/interesting/strange fruit or vegetable — or even one you're familiar with but know nothing about — ask the farmer what to do with it. You may discover a new favorite item or a recipe for an old standby."
7. Talk to the farmers and staff.
Talking to the farmers and booth workers is one of the huge benefits of the market. While being respectful of the fact that they're working, of course, you might ask where the farm is located, what sort of practices they use, etc. Many farmers are excited to talk about what they do.
8. If organic certification is important to you, ask about it.
Don't assume that produce at the farmers market is certified organic. Vendors should have their certification prominently displayed. Ask farmers about their practices.
9. Offer to volunteer!
Carrie Sullivan , the market chef, suggests that if you are interested in supporting your favorite farmer (and have some extra time on Farmers Market day), offer to volunteer! You will learn even more about how your food is grown or produced and you will probably go home with some delicious produce (or meat or cheese or plant starts) for your trouble.
If you like to jam, can, or pickle, you can almost certainly get a deal if you arrange in advance with the farmer to buy in bulk — a flat of strawberries, a case of tomatoes or a 10 pound container of green beans, for example.
10. Show a farmer how you used their produce.
Susan Coss, director of marketing and public relations at the market, likes to encourage shoppers to report back to farmers on how delicious or useful their produce was. "Tell a farmer when something is particularly delicious or let them know your favorite way to cook or serve an item they produce," she suggests.
And if you make jam or pickles think about sharing a jar with the farmer you bought the produce from.
Thanks so much to CUESA and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market!
(Image credits: Gary Yost Photography; Leela Cyd)