8 Rude Things You Do at the Farmers' Market, According to the Vendors Themselves
And here's how to stop.
I saw it coming from a mile away. Okay, that's an exaggeration. It was from a foot away. The young mother was inspecting my table filled with the jams and salsas that I made with the fruit from my fourteen mango trees. Her one-year-old baby, who she was holding, was clearly teething, gnawing on his fist and drooling profusely. As she leaned over, so did the baby, whose saliva began to drip in one long stream — straight into my sample bowl of vanilla-lime-infused mango jam. Then, to finish it off, he dunked his fist into it, sending sticky mango flying everywhere.
That comment was the most I received from the mother, who laughed at her child's antics. Even though he licked his fist with gusto, she didn't bother to buy a jar. As she moved on to the next booth and I cleaned up the mess, I thought how fortunate we all were that I hadn't been sampling the Scotch bonnet pepper flavor.
1. You contaminate the samples
Treating samples without respect for sanitary practices is a common theme at farmers' markets, both before and during the pandemic, says Anna Rider, a food writer and recipe developer at GarlicDelight.com. When she sells pasta and sauces at a farmers' market in the San Francisco Bay Area, she provides samples of the cooked pasta with sauce on a tray, which is, of course, a great way to attract attention from potential customers. But to do this, she says, you have to follow certain safety guidelines. For instance, food has to be covered and served in disposable containers.
Furthermore, once someone touches a sample, that item has to be removed. This is why you should be careful to take only the sample you're going to eat, she emphasizes, and then throw away the remains. "One customer took a sample, walked away with it, and then came back to put the sample back on the tray," she says. "She proceeded to touch every sample and then pick another one and walked away with it. This was terrible because I had to throw out all the samples since she had touched them. This is definitely a no-no during COVID-19 as most vendors aren't even providing samples for safety and hygiene reasons."
2. You manhandle the food
Writer and cheesemonger Alexandra Jones, who ran a farm stand for two years and sold artisan cheese at a farmers' market in Philadelphia for four years, had a similar experience with a woman "who insisted on 'muscle testing' every piece of the cheese," she says. "She wanted to pick the one that was 'best' for her." (Muscle testing is an alternative healing theory that purports to allow our subconscious mind to make decisions for us.) Jones also has far too much experience with "anyone who lets their dogs jump up on my samples or grown adults who just dive into samples with their bare hands even though multiple containers of toothpicks are right there."
3. Your kids touch — or lick — everything
Contaminated samples and mishandled products are just two irritations for those of us who have worked or continue to man a booth at farmers' markets. Children who believe produce should be tossed like sports equipment is another. Farmers' markets, which usually take place on the weekends (pre-pandemic and, depending on the state, during the pandemic) are family affairs. Vendors understand this and welcome everyone. But if your child accidentally ruins a sample or product by tainting it in any way — I've also seen a kid lick a piece of fruit like a lollipop — you should, at the very least, purchase it.
4. You squeeze and bruise the goods
Shelby DeVore, the founder of Farminence who also managed a commercial greenhouse for years, says, "I don't know how many times customers will pick up produce to squeeze, smell, or poke it to see how ripe it is, only to damage it and then set it back down." She also adds that many of the so-called tricks that people use to try and tell when something is ripe just aren't true. "You risk bruising the produce more than anything."
For this reason and for sanitary ones, many farmers ask you to let them do the choosing. Trust that they'll pick the best specimens. DeVore points out that farmers' markets are where shoppers have access to the freshest, most recently picked crops. "We want repeat buyers, so we only bring the best-looking produce we have," she says. "Farmers' markets are where you'll find the freshest produce and the unique varieties that you can't find at the grocery store."
5. You balk at the prices
Unfortunately, that means that prices are often a bit higher, which some shoppers can't help but complain about both out loud and overly loudly. Most buyers think high prices are because growers are using organic and/or sustainable practices or planting rare species. That may be partly true. But the reality is that farming is a difficult, intense profession where, like teaching, the dollars can't ever really compensate for the invisible hours of labor.
What farmers' market and festival frequenters also don't realize is that vendors have to pay for their booths beforehand. The price goes up if you want extras such as signage, awning, chairs, and a prime location. I always bypassed the awning, re-used signs, and brought my own chairs to save cash. You just never know how many people will come out and make your investment worthwhile.
That said, is it acceptable to bargain with a seller, whether the product is food, art, or another service? Edelwyn's Jeanine Duval, a former in-person tarot card interpreter who is now online thanks to COVID-19, says it's an iffy proposition. "You run into two kinds of vendors at markets: people who represent a company and don't have any say in prices, [and] artists, farmers, and artisans who are already living off of a very thin profit margin. So if you haggle, keep this in mind: they have priced their items a certain way in order to cover their costs and labor, or they may not have a say in the price."
6. You are impatient and demanding
If you are looking for a bargain, go to a market or festival toward the end of it, when a seller is less likely to want to pack up a lot of product to take home with them. Or if you're buying a lot of items or paying in cash and don't have correct change, see if you can make a transaction that benefits both of you. But keep in mind that you still might not get a deal. As Duval says, "Whatever you do, don't get mad, abusive, or difficult if they won't adjust their prices or are unwilling to negotiate."
That kind of rude and abrasive behavior, according to growers and artisans, is rampant. Even the most extroverted and friendliest of us have encountered our fair share. Naturally, many of us live to chat about our products. I loved telling people about how I made my infused jams and salsas. I enjoyed citing the history of my home, Mango House, a historic home and grove in Miami where I resided for nearly two decades before selling it this past year. But I hated hearing them say, after I recited a list of ingredients, "Oh, I can make that myself." If you could, you would.
7. You show contempt for the vendors' products
Shelby Smith, owner of Gym-N-Eat Crickets, was on the receiving end of even more disturbing comments. She produces sustainable, alternative protein snacks from farm-raised crickets, and started out selling them at farmers' markets. Not only did folks complain about her prices, she says, they would "openly make faces of disgust or yell about how crickets are disgusting." To make things worse, she's witnessed potential customers being driven away by others who would "actively discourage" them.
Another thing that keeps people from visiting a booth is odor. Customers should keep that in mind as they walk their dogs and fail to clean up or change their babies' diapers directly in front of a booth. Those actions drive away clientele.
8. You come to the market sick
Finally, while it should go without saying, be cognizant about even the perception of illness. "Even if it's 'just allergies,' if you feel a sneeze or a cough coming on, walk away and then come back," DeVore says. "Sneezing or coughing on the produce isn't only unsanitary for us and our produce, but it turns other potential customers away from our booth. Nobody wants to buy produce that they saw someone sneeze or cough on. This is especially true now, in light of the pandemic. If you're stuffy or feeling sick, please stay home."
And definitely don't come if you're feeling sick to your stomach, even if you believe it's just a hangover that will go away. DeVore once witnessed someone vomit in front of a vendor's booth, which caused that vendor to have to relocate to a less-prime spot on the outskirts of the market, losing time and money along the way.
So yes, bring your children, your dogs, your whole family to farmers' markets and festivals for the wholesome food and entertainment. Chat with the vendors and ask them what's in their products, especially to ascertain allergens. Enjoy the samples we set out to entice you. Just please don't use them to help teach your baby hand-mouth coordination — not just now during the coronavirus pandemic, but in the future, too.