I've been going to the farmer's market all summer long. Previous weeks I bought things like sugar plums, red plums, figs, and pears (a lot of fruit for some reason). It was also the Summer of the Squash because I bought a lot of zucchini and yellow summer squash, too. Now I see the selection of fruits, vegetables, and squash changing as the summer waves goodbye and winter sneaks up on us. The strawberries and blueberries are all gone. My favorite summer squashes have been replaced with their strange-looking and almost deformed winter cousins. There's still a lot of corn. There are apples by the bucketful. Enough with the damn apples! I'm going to have to make some apple crisp one of these days. Pretty soon we'll be seeing piles of pumpkins and I'm going to have make pumpkin pie!
If you're going to the farmer's market, there are some things you need to know to make your trip more enjoyable for both you and the farmers you're going to buy from. I decided to give some tips to the farmers market newbie:
1. BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag (or Basket) - If you provide your own bag (tote bag, backpack, etc.) or basket it will save a lot of trouble and cost for the farmers. For the bargains you get on the food, it's the least you can do for them. Once I overheard one woman say to one of her customers, "Thank you! You're one of the first people I've seen who actually brought there own bag." I understood, and since then I've brought my own (a nice blue tote that my grandma Elle gave me... thanks grandma Elle!)
2. Bring change - Not everyone has proper change, so there's lots of large bills being passed around. Many of those farmstands don't see anything smaller than a $10 bill. It's hard to make change for customers when they're exchanging it all for large bills. To make it a little easier on them, try to bring a lot of ones, quarters, and a couple fives.
3. Browse around - Don't just buy the first cucumber from the first person you see. Look around for a few minutes and see what everyone has to offer. Ask questions about their produce. You might find someone else selling the exact same thing for 25 cents less. You also might see fresher or better-looking produce, or something different that you haven't seen before. You also may not want to buy from certain shady-looking characters. I won't buy my produce from anyone who looks unhygienic or is smoking (that is disgusting!). I usually end up buying one or two things at several different stands.
4. Get touchy-feely - Don't be afraid to pick things up and inspect them. Feel them to ensure that the produce isn't mushy or too soft. Some produce may be bruised or overripe, and some may even be rotten. Many of the farmers prefer if you pick out specifically what you want anyway. Ask for assistance if you're not sure.
5. Try new things - You should come to the farmers market with little expectation because the flavors are always changing. Produce changes with the seasons, so stop moaning because the cherry-picking season is over! Weather and other factors also affect growing conditions and crop yield. There is also the factor of supply and demand; if a particular crop is not that popular, farmers will sometimes stop growing it. So you'd better come to the farmers market with an open mind and be prepared to challenge your pallet.
6. Be kind and courteous - Say hello and good morning to everyone you meet. Comment on the weather. If you have any questions, don't feel afraid to ask. Engage in conversation. Not everyone will want to chat, but they'll appreciate your acknowledgment. Always say thank you. They work hard all day to bring food to you, and some of them have to drive several miles to do so, therefore the least you can do is thank them for their time. Conclude by wishing them a great day in parting.
I enjoy my trips to the farmer's market on Tuesday mornings. Unfortunately, the last one of the season is October 16. I'll be sad when it's over, because then I'll have to go back to getting my California-grown produce from Juan or Betty or whomever at Wegmans' check-out line ("line" is not the word!). I'd better start packing away the fruits and vegetables over the next 3 weeks while I still have the chance.