An outdoor setting and the possible lack of a storefront means the etiquette is different at a farmer’s market than it might be at your average store. You might not even consider some things a courtesy, but they are here! Learn what you can do to be the most considerate shopper, and make the experience better for your vendors and yourself.
Yes, many vendors use systems that allow them to accept debit or credit cards. But if your market is in a rural area, if it rains, or if the rulers of the internet and cellular connections are upset, it can make these gadgets and apps difficult to use. While the vendor may be the one who seems apologetic in those moments, you’re probably very aware of those in line behind you, and that the vendor could lose their sales while fiddling with your purchase. Don’t avoid making a purchase because you’re without cash, but know it’ll probably be easier to have some. That way, if there are glitches in the systems, you can offer a different payment method and move forward.
Even better, plan ahead and take small bills. Save up your change for market day. Your vendor is likely to notice this courtesy. They get larger bills all day long from those of us stopping at the ATM just minutes prior to pulling up at the market. Your ones, fives, and quarters just might make their day, or give them time to sell rather than going to get change – again.
Respect Time Boundaries
Many farmer’s markets are held outdoors, or in an otherwise open environment. Without the walls and doors of a typical grocery store, it’s difficult to keep people out before opening time. While it might be fine to walk around and browse, simple business etiquette says you should wait until they are officially open before attempting to make a purchase. You may arrive fifteen minutes early, to see what looks to be a market ready for business! Hooray – you can beat the rush! But don’t do that.
I used to stand outside the door to my office building with a cup of coffee for ten minutes before I went inside. Away from customer traffic, just having a moment to myself before I started the workday. I built this time into my schedule, on purpose. And I didn’t love when my boss would see me outside and come out to discuss business. These vendors have been working hard to bring you what you want. Maybe they want a minute to think, to pray, to meditate, or to stare off into space. Maybe they still haven’t counted their change box. Perhaps she just wants a doggone cup of coffee before her head explodes. Don’t intrude on that. Respect the vendors, and the market’s opening and closing times.
If you’re invited to take part in an opening prayer or ritual, to chat, or to make a purchase early, go ahead! And if you’ve started a conversation on local irrigation methods for small gardens with a farmer, and she asks if you have time to talk after the official hours, feel free. But ask, or let them lead. His kid has ballet lessons in an hour. She has a doctor’s appointment. The dog has to be let out. It’s life. Be courteous, and remember that you can always ask for contact information to follow up later.
Yes, I can buy a pie at the grocery store for about $6, and yes, the one at the market cost me $12. No, that doesn’t mean I should use the store price to haggle. If you want crust made with GMO wheat harvested using pesticides, non-organic fruit, and goop made from artificial flavors and corn syrup, buy a cheap pie. If you want a handmade pie, created with an organic all-butter crust, using fruit picked from nearby bushes, baked hours ago, it’s at the farmer’s market. And you pay $12, because organic flour is expensive, butter tastes better than butter flavoring, and you like knowing about your food. It’s worth it to you, or it isn’t. If you want someone else to create, grow, and treat things to your specifications, you pay for it. If you want that same pie for less money, start picking berries.
Don’t assume that closing time is discount time. The farmer’s market is not the day-old bread rack at the bakery, or 2am at the singles club. From veggies to canned goods to textiles, they’re being sold at a price the vendor deems low enough to sell, and high enough to earn a profit. These are people who have put their lives, time, sweat, and money into creating and growing. If something doesn’t sell at market, it goes home for dinner, or is packed up to be sold at the next market. Or into the freezer, canning jars, or chickens’ feed. These things aren’t going into the dumpster because they didn’t sell, even if they go to make compost for future crops. They still have value to the farmer.
It is OK to ask. Maybe you want three zucchini – ask if the vendor can do 3 for $2, instead of $0.75 each. It’s also OK for the vendor to say, “I’m sorry, no”. In other countries, back-and-forth bargaining is the norm in this type of marketplace, but that really isn’t the case in the US. Do watch for opportunities to save money, but don’t expect it to be the norm.
Etiquette When There’s No Formal Line
It happens. Not all vendors have a spot on the counter for the exchange of goods for money. Some have a simple cash box behind their table. So what’s a person to do when it seems several people might want to make purchases, but no one has tried to make a line? Or there isn’t even really a reasonable place to make one?
Look around. Notice those people who seem to be holding merchandise and have stopped sampling or looking. These are the ones who were there before you. Stand near the counter or table, preferably without blocking merchandise from other shoppers. Make eye contact with the vendor when possible, to let them know you’re ready. Don’t disrupt their current interaction with another customer, just give a nod or quick wave to make them aware. If for some reason the vendor attempts to wait on you prior to waiting on those people you identified as being there before you, check to see that they are served first, or confirm that they are still looking. Don’t be that person who goes first because she got closest. It makes you a blanketty-blank. This is also good etiquette at your grocer’s deli counter, at a car dealership, and nearly anyplace people are serving people.
When You Have Questions
Ask them!It’s not just good etiquette, some vendors really enjoy talking about what they do, and how they do it. But their main purpose at that moment is to earn money from all of that doing, so be aware of other customers. Step aside if you’re deep in conversation but someone else has a quick question or purchase. Let others make purchases before you if there’s a line (or lots of customers), so that when you make your purchase you have time to ask questions without making others wait. If it’s a really busy market and you don’t have time to wait, you can still ask your question! Most vendors will have business cards or flyers with contact information – don’t hesitate to send an e-mail, make a phone call, or type a Facebook message.
And then listen. Really listen. If your question is detailed, be prepared to take notes and look things up when you get home. Don’t expect everyone to give up every tip they have for growing everything they produce, but be prepared to listen if someone is willing. Or to follow up if you have to cut the conversation short and want to know more.
Another great time to listen is when other people ask questions. Usually poor etiquette, I don’t mean eavesdropping on personal conversations, I mean listening in when the customer in front of you asks if there is wheat in that bread, or if the eggs are from cage-free chickens. You might get your answer, or even think of another question to add to the conversation when it’s your turn. Also, you don’t sound dumb to the person behind you, who heard the question asked both times. If you’ve ever had a job working with people, you’ve worked with that person who asked the same question that was just answered. Avoid being that person when possible. But, ask your questions – the guy behind you won’t say anything, and you’ll still get your answer. It’s just good to pay attention, you know?
Do you have tips or advice for navigating a farmer’s market with good etiquette? Feel free to share your best hints for a successful trip studded with consideration for both vendors and other customers!