Expert Advice

10 Etiquette & Shopping Tips to Help You Enjoy the Farmers Market

Image Credit: Gary Yost Photography

Do you love the market but find yourself occasionally confused or flustered by all the unknowns? Is it okay to sample or to ask a lot of questions? Can you bring your dog? Is this the best tomato of the day? Or maybe you avoid the market altogether because it just seems so insider-y?

We love our farmers markets here at Kitchn, but we totally get it: Sometimes the experience can be 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.

Image Credit: Leela Cyd

A few years ago, we ran a very popular post on farmers market etiquette.

Read it: Farmers Market Helpful Hints and Etiquette Tips

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 10 tips for making the most of your farmers market experience and practicing good etiquette too!

Image Credit: Gary Yost Photography

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 vegetables and pick them up later.)

3. Come prepared with a shopping cart and small bills.

You might want to bring a folding shopping cart if you anticipate a large haul. And bring small bills! Farmers always appreciate not having to make change for a large bill — especially if you're going earlier in the day.

4. Know that bargaining is not really part of the picture.

In general, the experts 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 Mazurek. '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."

On shopping at the farmers market more: Tips for Making the Farmers Market the Only Place You Shop

5. Leave the dog at home.

Most farmers markets do not allow dogs (except for service dogs) due to health and safety laws. Even if yours does allow dogs, bringing Fido might make it harder for you to shop if you have to worry about what he's up to.

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 else the grow, etc. Many farmers will be 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, but they might not. 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 your town's 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!

A good CUESA resource: 10 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets

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