I have certainly spent my fair share of time at farmers markets. Though most of the time I am busy selling peaches and apples, sometimes I get lucky and can steal away for a few minutes. When I can, I love browsing the fresh produce and homemade products, and I love swapping stories with the other vendors. While I make no claims to be an expert on maneuvering the markets, I can certainly offer the tips I have learned from my experience as a vendor and a shopper. Hopefully, you can implement these suggestions to ensure an easy-going market experience:
- Arrive Early: Several vendors have established loyal customers who are already waiting when the selling bell sounds. Because the best produce sells the quickest, getting to the market early (not just on time), will help ensure that you have the best selection possible.
- Invest in reusable bags, and bring them: Not all vendors are equipped with bags, and if they are, they may not be large enough or strong enough to accommodate your other purchases. And who wants to juggle six or seven bags? Not me. Most reusable bags are large and sturdy so you can combine all of your purchases into just a couple of bags.
- Bring cash: Cash, specifically small bills, is much easier and much quicker than credit cards - and is accepted by all vendors. Not every seller will have a way to accept credit cards, and not all are signed up for the various coupons or tokens offered by the farmers market. Trust me, sticking with cash is the way to go.
- Leave your car at home: Not all farmers markets have good nearby parking options, so trying to find a place to park can be a hassle. If you live close enough, take the opportunity to get your exercise and walk to the market. You could also ride your bike, plan on parking farther away, or have someone drop you off and pick you up.
- Get chatty: Don't hesitate to ask questions or get to know your vendors. One of my favorite parts about selling at farmers markets is conversing with the customers. After a few weeks, repeat customers at each market begin to stand out, and it's nice to develop relationships with them. This is also an easy way to get all the info you need about the produce. No one knows better than the producer how to properly store and/or ripen their products.
- Do some pre-shopping research: Most businesses are online to some extent now, so check out a list of vendors that are going to be at your market. Then check out those vendors' websites so you can read up on their products and practices. That way, you know ahead of time who will be offering what, and whether or not they will be organic, grain-fed or grass fed, etc.
- Be flexible: I always take two lists - one of things I absolutely need, and another of things I'd like to get, but could do without if they aren't within my budget or don't look the best that week. It's also important to keep an open mind about what may be at the market that you didn't think of in advance. It is easy to get frustrated if you have a long list of things you can’t leave without and the producers didn’t bring it that particular week, or the pickings are slim. Believe me, I would love to be able to count on the farmers markets week in and week out for my grocery runs, but sometimes that’s just not feasible. Taking recipes with you can replace making a list, or allow you to get creative with substitutes available at the market.
- Plan for patience: Be prepared to wait in lines. Sometimes popular vendors gather quite the crowd, and sometimes vendors get caught up with a customer for a few extra minutes. Odds are, they are willing to spend just as much time with you.
- Browse before buying: Don't buy something the first time you see it. Rather, take a few minutes and stroll through the entire market, comparing prices and quality.
Again, I am not a professional at navigating farmers markets. But my experience as a vendor and a shopper has taught me how to make it fun and stress-free shopping trip. Hopefully you can use these tips to enhance your time at the market.