Do’s and Dont’s: Farmers Market Etiquette
Illustration by by Holly Wales
The rules of retail etiquette, often unspoken, are all too real. You expect a hard sell at the car dealership, indifference in the Forever 21 dressing room, all-out war at Filene’s Basement. Farmers markets, though, fall somewhere in a middle ground, equal parts grocery store and Marrakech souk. What are the expectations? How should a shopper behave? We asked Chris Miller of Hawthorne Valley Farm, based in Ghent, New York, who sells at Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket, for some guidance.
Do: Take as many free samples as you damn want. “Sampling is a big part of our business,” says Miller. “It gives us an opportunity to make better choices about what [customers] want.”
Do: Feel free to haggle. But don’t be surprised if the staffers don’t negotiate. While the staffers at Hawthorne don’t consider it rude to try to bargain, they do stick to the marked prices.
Do: Buy the bad-for-you pastries.One of my chief complaints is that I feel like some sort of monster when I eschew the healthy produce and buy a pie. Miller assures me this is all in my head.
Do: Flirt with the staff. “Flirting is kind of fun of its own accord and it’s part of the markets.” After I ask Miller about this, he asks for my email address so he can send me an article he recently read about flirting in farmers markets. (I never got the email.) I can’t tell if he’s flirting with me.
Do: Return stuff if you hate it. Who returns food? Still, the farmers do take returns. “We don’t mind losing $4 if it’s going to make someone keep their trust in us and our products,” Miller says.
Don’t: Bother asking before taking a sample of something that’s not labeled as a sample. “Most people know how this works.” (No, I did not.) “You don’t really have to ask, but you can ask anyway.” So apparently it’s fine to just grab a strawberry or string bean and chomp away in the name of sampling.
Don’t: Feel obligated to purchase just because you’ve accepted samples. For reals. From Miller “Our purpose with sampling is not necessarily to make a sale on the spot. Our goal is to give people a familiarity with our products so that we become a part of their regular shopping circuit. So we don’t want people to be discouraged from sampling even if they’re not going to buy that day.”
Don’t: Be afraid to use large bills. I thought breaking $50 or $100 bills would be a no-no, but it’s fine. The sellers start the day with lots of small bills for change. Hawthorne accepts credit and debit cards and also food stamps via EBT cards.
Don’t: Jump other customers in line. This was literally the only thing Miller would admit is bad customer behavior. Cutting in front is wrong, everywhere, all the time.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Hawthorne Valley Farm employee. It is Chris Miller, not John Scott Legg.