Recently, CityLab held interviews with some farmers at their favorite markets. The answers were indeed enthusiastic as vendors are seeing more and more people supporting family farms but after they loosened up a bit, nightmare customer stories began to be exchanged.
It was interesting to learn of certain, common poor behaviors and I thought it might be a good idea to share them with you in case you’re new to the locally-grown scene. From those who push customers out of the way to snap Instagram photos, to the serial produce nibblers, to the aesthetic elitists sniffing at the “misshapen” heirloom tomatoes, these are the top contenders. Sound off in the comments and let us know which surprised you the most!
1) You show up too early…
It might seem like common sense to some but it turns out that not having a brick and mortar business tells some people to ignore official market hours completely. “We get here at 6 a.m. to start setting up, but we’re not really open until 8,” explains a flower vendor from Silver Heights Farm Nursery in Jeffersonville, New York. “I’ve had people come knock on the window of the truck at 6:05,” he adds. “It’s like, give us a minute.”
So, treat your farmer like you would any other business and respect their hours. They are commuting for every market and need a little time to set up shop!
If they’re still open it’s no big deal to show up late in the day but please understand that farmers are bringing a limited supply with them and you should expect it to be picked over. It’s not realistic to request that a vendor turn around and drive to their supply and back because you came late in the day. The Silver Heights Farm vendor noted, “We run out of stuff. If you didn’t get here, and we’re out, I can’t help you.”
3) You make off with the samples
It can be hard to identify samples and although one vendor mentioned that “We’re not going to chase you down for $.60,” it’s always good to ask when in doubt.
4) You don’t pay cash
Dana Sutton, from urban+ade in Sharpsburg, Maryland, said that even though some vendors accept credit cards or use Square, be aware that credit companies are charge them fees for these transactions. Most farmers aren’t making much and cash is king. On the opposite side of the spectrum vendors typically aren’t loaded with a full cash register so $100 bills aren’t such a great way to pay for your produce either. “When people have large bills, it’s really frustrating because we don’t have that much cash,” says Ann Yang, from Washington, D.C.’s Misfit Juicery.
5) You contaminate the goods
Like point number two mentioned, ask before you start chowing down! But there is another reason for this that all too often hurts the bottom line too. A vendor from Windhill Farm booth at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York shares her experience selling micro greens. “We wash everything before we sell it, and it’s a big faux pas to stick your hands right in the bin…We’re happy to have people sample things, because we want them to know what it tastes like if they’re curious.” So help yourself to a leaf but don’t contaminate the whole bunch and risk it getting tossed.
And for some reason the double dipping issue is still a problem. Roxbury Mountain Maple, a syrup and creamy candies vendor offers complimentary samples using single-use spoons. When a customer double dips, the vendor is forced to throw out the entire sample, says market manager Rebecca Holscher. “It happens all the time,” she said. “We can take it back to the farm in the Catskills and reboil it to kill any bacteria, but it’s a lot of extra work.”
6) You stop by all the time, but never buy anything
This vendor from D.C. who opted to remain anonymous explained that there are far too many people out there that frequently show up to sample but never actually buy anything- serial samplers. “We see people [who] try the same thing over and over. Like, does it taste the same? Yup! It still tastes the same.” So if it’s just that good that you need to sample it over and over again, it’s about time to buy some or move on.
7) You balk at the prices
A Windfall Farm vendor says that people tend to think he’s trying to take advantage of them on the price. Heck! It’s not his fault the government throws tax money subsidies at farmers growing GMOs while requiring organic farmers to pay fees for certification.
“There’s a misconception that we’re getting rich off of this or taking advantage of people in the city…We do everything by hand,” he says. “Those are our weed-killers.”
He explains that complaints about price tend to take on an accusatory tone, along the lines of Why do you deserve to get paid a living wage? “I’ll be frank: It’s really insulting when someone is holding an incredibly valuable bag, and I know that their rent is more than I make in a month,” he says. “It feels a little bit rude.”
8) You’re impatient
Cut the vendors a little bit of slack even if you’re in a rush. They most likely drove down overnight and are more exhausted than even you are! “Market days are 21 hours for us,” said one vendor. “If I mess up your change slightly, it might be because I didn’t sleep at all.”
Alx Velozo from the Stoke’s Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket said she has noticed that customers can be very disrespectful to each other, too. “Sometimes they grab for the last of something and push people out of the way.”
9) You don’t respect vendors’ time
“One of the best things you can do is not tell us anything about your life,” says a Windfall Farm vendor. “You can ask me questions about the product, or how we farm, or what we love about the farmer’s market, but I don’t need to know what your sister did yesterday.” He knows that the customer wants to feel a connection but over the course of a 14-hour shift he hears an overwhelming number of personal chronicles and they can interfere with the service to other customers on a typical busy day.
Ask questions, just don’t waste their time or make it more difficult to sell fresh produce to others. “We educate people. It’s part of the job,” says the Windfall Farm employee. “We’ve become so disconnected from where our food comes from that I definitely don’t fault anyone for asking ‘What is that? I can eat flowers?’”
Zoe Walpuck, from FRESHFARM market in D.C., echoes that sentiment. She says, “I was thinking about how cool it would be if there was some kind of farmers’ market pledge that you could take where you vow to try one new thing each week.” Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? New to real food and don’t know what rainbow chard tastes like? Buy some and try it out! Just don’t act like ‘one of the above’ while you do it, for the sake of our fellow hard-working farmers!