Farmer’s Market Etiquette

It’s that time of year again – the growing season is in full swing and people everywhere are heading out to the markets to get in on all the tasty fruits and vegetables. But it can get a little crazy out there. A little bit “every man for himself” in what should really be a fun and relaxing experience. Here then, are a few helpful tips.

  • Go with change. Not, you know, in your life overall, but rather in your pocket or perhaps a small change purse. Farmers will love you if you have anything close to exact change. (That’s why most items are priced at either rounded dollar figures or something-fifty. They’re desperately hoping not to have to crack a twenty.) Unless you need your loonies and toonies for the bus or laundry, consider keeping a dish and tossing your loose ones in there for market day.
  • Go with bags. Here in Toronto, many farmers I’ve talked to are super cranky about the city’s looming plastic bag ban, especially farmers who grow things that need to be kept moist, such as greens. So most definitely go with backpacks or reusable bags, but consider bringing a few plastic bags as well for wet or messy stuff.
  • Park the cart. And the stroller. Some outdoor markets are spread out enough that strollers, dogs or shopping buggies are not an encumbrance for other shoppers, but for indoor markets with tiny aisles, please, please, please, leave the wheelie things outside. Not only do you impede the flow, but I’ve actually had my foot driven over. And then gotten yelled at by the entitled Yummy Mummy pushing said stroller for daring to say “Ow!”
  • You squish it, you buy it. Many farmers pick their products at various stages of ripeness. Some of these products (peaches, tomatoes, berries) can be quite delicate when fully ripe. Before you get all touchy-feely, ask. Tell the vendor what you’re looking for, and when you plan on eating/cooking it. They’ll know which items are more ripe or more green and can direct you to the appropriate products. Or they’ll show you how to properly squeeze a peach without turning it into a mushy mess.
  • You knock it on the ground, you buy it.
  • Try the free samples when they’re offered, but keep your five sticky fingers out of the boxes of berries until you’ve paid for them.
  • You get the number of items (berries, beans, etc.) that the farmer puts in the box, which is generally determined by weight. Don’t be stealing extra berries from other boxes to top up your own.
  • An ear of corn includes the husks. Take that shit home and throw it away in your own garbage. Or better yet, a compost bin.
  • Speaking of garbage, if you must carry your coffee cup around the market with you, find an actual garbage bin to discard it in, don’t leave it on some farmer’s table.
  • Lookie-loos, rubberneckers, lollygaggers and tourists – yes, the vegetables are pretty aren’t they? But you know what, some of us are here to get our groceries, so if you need to stand there in awe, kindly step to the side so as not to impede the flow of traffic.
  • Get to know your farmers – but not if there is a line-up behind you. These folks are working and the rest of us have shopping to do. You want to hang out with the guy who grows your beans, make a date and do it on your own time.
  • Be patient. Some markets open as early as 5am, and the farmers have been up since midnight loading their trucks. If they’re not moving as quickly as you’d like (I bought berries last week from a young guy who could barely keep his eyes open), take the time to meditate on how truly fortunate you are to be here at the market on a lovely day, and able to afford beautiful, fresh locally-grown produce.
  • Thank a farmer. They work hard to put food on our plates.

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Lucky Dip – Monday, July 18, 2011

Think you’re saving the world by shopping at the farmers’ market? Think again. [The Guardian]

While Toronto city council voted to maintain the local food procurement policy, take a look at all the loopholes that pretty much gut any positive good that comes from such a decision. [NOW]

Austrian authorities plan to watch for really big BBQs after thieves make off with a truck full of mustard and ketchup. [Globe and Mail]

Chefs and their food tattoos. [The Financial Times]

Could you kill your own meat? [National Post]

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Loco-Bores

So… MacLean’s magazine reported last week that the Hamilton Farmer’s Market had plans to oust a number of long-time vendors because they didn’t fit the market’s new image of upscale, focusing on “local” ingredients grown within a 100-mile radius. Regular readers of this site will know just how much utter bullshit I believe the 100-mile diet to be. It’s elitist in its time demands (only people with a lot of money and enough free time to source local ingredients are able to eat this way); it makes huge assumptions about food miles, something that is almost impossible to calculate accurately; and it creates what is essentially a two-tier food system, with those of us with free time and free money being able to congratulate ourselves on helping the poor, downtrodden local farmer, while those with no time and little money having to shop at the oh-so-frowned-upon supermarket.

Andrew Potter, the author of the piece, makes allegations not only of elitism but of xenophobia. This undoubtedly will get people’s hackles up. But in the case of Hamilton, the majority of the long-time vendors given the boot were not white, but Vietnamese, Colombian and Middle Eastern. And when you think of “local” food, when it is featured on menus or touted in magazines or books… it’s pretty much old skool white people food. Sorry, immigrants, you don’t fit our elitist ideal.

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Why the Internet Needs Smell-O-Vision

This is really one of those posts that I’m creating for myself as a future surprise. Four or five months from now, in the dark, grey, depressing days of late winter, when everything is covered in that layer of crusty road salt and the promise of spring in not yet in the air, I will be sitting here at my computer, listlessly killing time while I’m supposed to be doing something productive, and I will come across this post, and I will remember.

The last bouquet of summer sweet peas, bought at the farmer’s market from the sweet family who run the apiary and primarily sell honey. I nestled the small bouquet into a bag containing a bunch of basil to protect them from getting bumped and bruised by things like apples and potatoes.

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What do You Want From Your Farmers?

market3The trend of eating locally, while nothing new for many people, seems to have brought some additional concerns with its renewed popularity. Maybe it’s the necessary role food plays in our lives, but we as consumers seem to want a lot more from our food shopping experience than any other shopping we do. Where we are encouraged to get to know the people selling and creating the food we eat, this philosophy doesn’t seem to extend toward other items we purchase. No one is insisting we develop an ongoing relationship with our real estate agent, or form a “community” with the salegirls from the Gap. Heck, for that matter, the “buy local” trend seems to go no further than food, as the same people who search out wheat grown within a 100-mile radius have no qualms whatsoever about wearing yoga pants made in China, or shoes that have come from Italy.

No, we have a twisted and sometimes perverse relationship with food and with the act of procuring said food. We’re no longer content to just go, shop and bring the stuff home. Now we need events, family-friendly activities, entertainment, a sense of community and added value. That’s a lot for your average farmer and a table of tomatoes to live up to.

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