Going to the local farmer’s market, roadside stand, or you-pick is a great American pastime. It is an awesome way to find fresh, local produce and meet the farmers that grew it. Also, the food usually tastes better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.
I worked at my family’s roadside stand for over 25 years selling fresh fruits and vegetables from our farm. During that time we developed relationships with many of our regular customers and greatly appreciated their support. But there were also a few customers that we weren’t so fond of, for various reasons. Trust me, you don’t want to be that customer.
Here’s the best way to avoid it, and also get the most out of your experience.
1 No squeezing, poking, or prodding the wares.
We totally understand that customers want to look over the product before purchase. Naturally, everyone wants to buy the best option on the table–the juiciest peach, the ripest tomato, and the biggest apple. But don’t ruin the produce in the process! The more fruit and vegetables are handled, the more likely they will become bruised and battered. Once that happens, it can rot quickly and we aren’t able to sell it. Instead of prodding and poking, ask the person working if they can point you to a specific quality you’re looking for. If you want soft peaches, just ask! It’s more than likely the seller knows which products are the ripest, the hardest, the biggest, or whatever else tickles your fancy, and can point you in the right direction.
2. Carry cash, including small denominations.
Not all farms are equipped to handle card payments, which is especially true at you-pick locations. Not all of us have high speed internet, let alone the ability to process your credit card. If you’re going to visit a farm, consider carrying cash on you until and unless you know they’re able to accommodate other types of transactions. Better yet, carry smaller denominations. We can usually give change for a couple $100 bills, but not much more.
3. Don’t insult the produce.
It might sound really stupid, but we kinda take it personally. My family always did every step of the growing process ourselves, so there was a lot of hard work, sweat, and (definitely some) tears that went into it. If a customer came up and told us the produce looked like crap, it was hitting below the belt. And, yes, sometimes a less than pleasant response was given. Heed the advice of that cartoon deer – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
4. No shucking the sweet corn!
I know that everyone wants to rip back the husk of the sweet corn and pick out the “best” ears of corn. The problem is, once the husk is pulled back the sweet corn starts to dry out. Ultimately, that ruins it for everyone else and the farmer loses out. We used to throw out ears of corn all the time that had been ripped back and not purchased. Usually there was absolutely nothing wrong with the corn itself. Listen, if you’re going to eat corn on the cob, just accept that it might not be perfect from end to end. If you’re worried about worms, those can show up at any point on the cob, so peeling the end doesn’t do much good. Don’t sweat it, you’re not going to eat it all anyway.
5. And no fingernails in the kernels either…
I’m including this one because it is a particular pet peeve of mine. It irked me so much that I actually had a sign on the sweet corn display stating the rule: if you put your fingernail in the sweet corn, you just bought that ear! I know that some customers think they can tell how fresh or tough the corn is depending on some weird analysis of the way their nail penetrates the kernel. But guess what? No one wants to eat that corn once your fingernail (and goodness knows what else…) has been inside it. You wouldn’t think of going to the grocery store and smashing the bread to see how soft it is, so don’t do it at the farmer’s market either. Just don’t do it. It’s disgusting.
6. Unless indicated, this isn’t a buffet.
I know the grape tomatoes look sweet and yummy just sitting there, but try not to pop a couple in your mouth. At least, wait until you’ve paid for the produce. Sometimes samples are available, and then you should feel free to try them. Otherwise, you could be violating some type of health code, and it isn’t really fair to consume the fruits of our labor for free. Also, if you’re eating something with a pit, like a sweet cherry, please don’t spit it out on the floor (I’m not even kidding…true story).
7. Special orders don’t upset us.
We always had customers that would request special things and we usually accommodated them. Most people don’t want to buy a whole bushel of tomatoes at one time, unless they plan on canning or cooking a large batch. So we rarely displayed an entire bushel of tomatoes on the sale counter, but we certainly had them and they were available upon request. This was also quite common for people that needed a few dozen ears of sweet corn; we were happy to supply it. Just try to ask in advance so your farmer can make sure the product is available and ready when you come to get it.
8. You don’t have to like the price, but be nice.
If you don’t you like the price, feel free to just walk away. Chances are we’ve done market research, we know how much different things are selling for, and we’ve priced our produce accordingly. That doesn’t mean you have to like the price or be willing to pay it. We understand that, but we also don’t need rude comments.
9. Ask questions!
If you’re at a market where the farmers are actually present (like at ours!), feel free to ask questions and be curious. Most farmers are happy to talk about what we do and share it with other eaters as well. If you don’t understand why we make a certain decision or choose a particular production method, just ask. You might be surprised at all of the considerations that go into it!
Now, go forth and eat fresh, local produce!