Shopping at a farmers market is an experience. For those who do it regularly, it’s a weekly trip out and a chance to chat to friends they can buy food from. However, for those of us whose weekly shop resembles Formula 1 racing with a shopping trolley – grocery list for a map – it can be a bit daunting.
Things are done differently at a farmers market. There’s stuff there you won’t find in a supermarket. Weird and exotic stuff like real food. And what’s with all that dirt? Not to mention all the health you might get contaminated by if you eat any of it. Besides, it’s addictive isn’t it, all that flavour?
Aside from the different and wholesome foods available, though, things are done differently at a farmers market. You may have to get your pennies out more than once, for instance, because there’s no check-out. Each vendor is independent and needs paying separately. Bizarre, huh?
So what’s the ‘etiquette’ for shopping at a farmers market? How, exactly, are things done there and how do you make the most of it?
RISE AND SHINE
Get there early. Those in the know are well aware that the best produce gets bought first, so if you want the best, you need to beat the experienced farmers market shopper at their own game and turn up first thing. For Taunton Farmers Market, that means 9 am, when it opens.
A farmer’s market veteran knows you have to be adaptable.
Different vegetables will be on the stalls week-by-week, and certain other produce are not available out of season. It means you might not get everything on your list, but be brave – change your plans about your week’s menu on the hoof and try something new.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Haggling is a common practice in many parts of the world, but it’s generally a no-no at farmers markets.
Farmers are dependent on the weather. Their income and productivity are greatly affected by factors outside their control and this is sometimes reflected in their prices. It means that, when there’s a glut, their food will be cheaper, but sometimes it means their prices are higher.
Operating on a small scale and doing tasks by hand, as most local producers do, means labour and overheads are comparatively higher than mass produced food stuffs. You may pay a bit more for your goods, but this is offset by the higher quality and nutritional value you get from day-fresh, local food.
DON’T TOUCH … UNLESS YOU’RE INVITED
Much of the food on display is not neatly packaged in plastic and cling-film. It’s displayed as it is and sold to you in paper bags. It’s not good, for hygiene reasons, for customers to handle unpackaged goods, so it’s best to ask the vendor before touching.
Often, you’ll find bite-sized samples on offer, which is great.
Trying something new is always a risk, especially if you have a family of picky eaters. If you come across a food you’ve never seen before, you can often try a taste before you buy. Plus, if you’re not sure how to cook or prepare the food you’re interested in, the vendor is most likely the person who grew or made it. Who better to tell you how to prepare it?
For boxed-up soft fruit, ask before you try, because they’re often sold by weight. If people help themselves like guests at a wedding buffet, someone else can get shortchanged.
If you’re not sure what something is or how it’s grown/produced, don’t be shy. Farmers know everything there is to know about their produce, so if you have any questions, ask.
Take large empty bags along. While most of our stallholders have a supply of carrier bags available, and we don’t have to charge the 5p large companies are required to, keeping waste down is important for the environment. Re-use old carriers or have a couple of good-sized tote bags on hand to take your haul home in.
Farmers market traders don’t tend to have electronic payment options because of the prohibitive charges the companies who run them levy. So bring cash to avoid disappointment.
There are plenty of ATMs around. For Taunton Farmers Market, on Thursdays at the High Street, there is one in Boots and one in Tesco’s – both a dozen yards away from the furthest stall.
BRING IT ON
So, now you know the dos and don’ts of shopping at your local farmers market, you also know it’s not so hard. Come along – not just for good food, but for the atmosphere and ambiance. It’s a fantastic way to make you feel part of your local community, and you’ll be supporting local jobs and businesses to boot.