Getting the best out of the farmer's market
Updated: Feb 19, 2021
Winter markets can be really hard from the vendor standpoint. You get up and head out in the dark and cold, set up your booth (still dark and cold), and hope that a few brave souls will come out to shop. Not many farmers have fresh veggies in the winter, so the market depends a lot on baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, syrup and frozen meats. Craft vendors and artists will hopefully fill in the gaps to create a market that will draw people in, but unless it's a full-time gig a lot of vendors just don't want to go out in the cold. It's way too tempting to sleep in when it's just a side hustle. Vendor participation drops, which leaves the rest of the vendors out on a limb. Shoppers won't come to a market that's bare.
On the other hand, those who stick it out can really build strong trust relationships and loyalty with their customers. They know they can depend on you to be available. This is huge. Here's what I learned this year: if you're gonna do a market, be committed and consistent - your customers will get to know you and will have your back when times get hard (like 2020!).
For shoppers: TALK to the farmers and vendors at the market. Ask questions; we love 'em. We'll tell you absolutely everything about our farms, our process, and what makes our food special. Guess what else? We often take special orders. Early last summer I had found a recipe online for a salad that called for pea shoots. Pea shoots! You can't buy pea shoots at the big grocery store. I talked to my favorite grower at the market and he agreed to pick some pea shoots from his vines especially for me and bring them the following Saturday. They were wonderfully sweet, crunchy, bright green. In case you don't know, peas only grow in the spring, so those pea shoots were a seasonal treat.
Here's a tip for you: check with the market coordinator or the website and make sure that your farmer's market is a grower only market. This ensures that you're supporting your local farmers and that you're getting the best food possible. Some markets allow re-selling, and that can lead to substandard produce. Don't go to vendors that bring giant refrigerator size cardboard boxes full of veggies. They didn't grow those and they don't know anything about them (variety, growing methods, uses, etc). Make sure you're aware of what is being harvested in your area. One time I stopped at a roadside stand and the guy was selling sweet corn in early June. This was in Indiana where the corn in our gardens was knee high. No way was that corn local. Turned out, he'd gone down south, bought a bunch of corn, and brought it back up here to re-sell. Not for me; I'll wait for the good stuff from farmers I can actually trust.