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Getting the Most from a Farmer’s Market

 

By Christopher Peake

The Frisco Farmers market operates every Saturday from May 1 through Oct. 23. So if you’re thinking of heading out to your friendly farmer’s market, here are some tips to help you maximize the experience.

COME EARLY

Get there as soon as the market opens. In Frisco, that’s 8 a.m. on Saturday, with closing time at 1 p.m. or when items are sold out. The bigger the market, the more customers there will be. Vendors also are in a better mood than they will be later in the day.

BRING YOUR OWN BAGS

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All vendors have bags, but with the exception of the odd paper bag vendor (they cost vendors more money than plastic, so fewer have them) you’ll be toting home thin plastic bags.

BRING CASH

All vendors take cash, many take checks and none takes plastic. Few Farmer’s Markets have ATM’s conveniently nearby, so cash is king.

DRESS COMFORTABLY

Dress as though you’ll be on your feet for a period of time, because you will be. Dress for the weather: it’s usually chillier in the morning so layer. If it’s an afternoon FM wear a hat and comfortable clothing. Shoes are especially important: no flip-flops or clunky boots. You’re there for comfort, not fashion.  Parking could be inconvenient, so think about walking back to the car with armloads of groceries; it’s not a supermarket so there are no carts or baskets.

DON’T RUSH

Relax, enjoy yourself! When you get there take some time to walk around, see what’s what and who does a nice job of displaying their goods, who looks serious and who looks like an amateur. Depending on the time of day and the weather, get a drink and something to nibble on while you cruise. Eating as you go is key to how much you buy: if you’re hungry you’re apt to buy more food than you need. If you’re not so hungry you’ll buy in proportion to your needs.

PICKING THE BEST PRODUCE

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It’s all fresh, so the rule of thumb is to pick the produce that most appeals to your eye. I’ve set out 30 pint boxes of berries and had customers stand there agonizing over which box looks the best. No point telling them they’re all the same because to a customer they’re NOT all the same. If it’s something you have chosen then you feel you got a bargain and it tastes that much better. If you have a particular need for a smaller amount than you see, ask for a smaller amount. You’ll usually get it. If not, go to another vendor.

A tip on corn: if the stalk (cut) end is moist and white, it’s fresh.

ASK QUESTIONS

If you don’t ask, you won’t know. If you want to know how a particular fruit is grown, if you’d like tips on preparing a new vegetable or if you want to know about the old machine being used to make a broom, ask. If vendors have time, they’ll always talk to you, and your best time to ask is when there are fewer customers.

Vendors want to tell you about their wares. They genuinely want you to have had a happy experience, even if you don’t buy from them. Often they’ll give a customer an apple or pear or a strawberry so they can taste and feel the freshness (I always enjoy doing that for older people who are obviously on a fixed and limited income. Makes me feel good.) Will your supermarket do that?

A good experience pretty much guarantees you’ll return.

WHEN TO BARGAIN

At the end of the day vendors are looking to cut our inventory as much as possible. I’ve sold 36 ears of fresh Silver Queen corn for $6 when just 30 minutes ago it was going for .75 cents an ear; a $12.50 pie, just 8 hours old, will sell for $10. I’ll give away the few odd apples, pears and/or peaches left in a box. If it’s not fresh we won’t sell it.

WHAT TO DO WITH WHAT YOU SEE

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There are other options besides shopping for you or your family. For example, many people would come to us to buy fruit for a fruit salad; from other vendors, they’ll get cheese and lamb or fish and some baked goods for desert and flowers for the table and gather together some friends for an impromptu meal. That’s especially nice when the weather turns warm and you can eat outside.

And which host or hostess will not say a special “thank you” when a guest has brought them a peach pie or fresh raspberries and a jar of organic yogurt? The bonus is that you can enjoy the gift, too. And you had a good time shopping for it.

CHILDREN AT THE FARMER’S MARKET

Children are great. Most of us have them and some of us have grandchildren, but unless they can walk on their own and can keep their hands off the produce they should not come to the Farmer’s Market. Tent areas are tight and strollers take up everyone’s space, and children who handle food make that food appear ugly and damaged to others. I can tell stories about children who go ballistic when they see fresh berries, grabbing them by the handful. That drives me crazier than the customer who every Saturday morning asked for one of every apple, pear, peach and nectarine to “sample”.  Keep the kids at home and, hey, that’s a bonus for your time, isn’t it?

Christopher Peake lives in Exeter, NH, and was the Farmer’s Market Manager for a family farm orchard, the largest in the state. He now writes about the environment and can be contacted through his website, communicategreen.com

Resources: Local farmer’s markets

  • Frisco Farmers Market, 6048 Frisco Square Blvd. Frisco, Texas 75034; Open every Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. or sell out from May 1 to Oct.  23. www.friscofarmersmarket.org/
  • City of Dallas Farmers Market, 1010 S. Pearl. Open daily 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, 362 days a year. 214-939-2808. www.dallasfarmers market.org.
  • Denton County Farmers Market, Mulberry at Carroll, adjacent to Bayless-Selby House Museum. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to sellout. Season runs April through September.

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