Tis that time of year, farmer’s markets are in full summer swing. We work the local market eight months of the year and sell out of the farm and other outlets the other four. If you’ve attended a local market, I bet you got the impression that it is just a bunch of country guys and gals heading into town to sell what is growing in their back 40. Not so dear friends. Every market has a full cast of characters, from vendors to customers. After being a regular vendor for several years now, allow me to share some of my observations.
#1. Only a small percentage of vendors are actual farmers. Don’t let those overalls, straw hats and boots fool ya. For most, that is their farmer costume. Unless your market is a “producer only” market, it is most likely crawling with resellers. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they might be wearing dirty flannel shirts, jeans and suspenders, but they rolled up before the market opened in an Escalade full of boxes with “product of Chile” written on the side. They spend a lot of time peeling barcode labels off of their “home grown” products before the first customers arrive.
#2. Culled produce is where it’s at baby. Drive by any wholesale produce site on a Friday afternoon and see the line of “farmers” there to pick up their culled produce. A cull market is where restaurant and grocery store rejected fruits and veggies end up after being picked through. It is sold for pennies a pound to the guy in the dirty flannel shirt, jeans and suspenders and he turns around and sells it to you for $2.50 a pound. No seeding, weeding, or harvesting required! He just smiles at you with his fingers hooked on his suspenders while he mentally adds up his profit. “You have a blessed day now ma’am”.
#3. Vendors don’t always get along. Behind the scenes, farmer’s markets are a hoot. The Strawberry Lady is pissed off at the Honey Guy for “stealing” her table site. Sometimes a verbal slugfest ensues, but mostly it results in just a lot of glaring. The Baked Goods vendor thinks that the Homemade Soap vendor across from him reported his non-licensed tomato pies to the authorities and the Baked Goods vendor is hoppin mad. More glaring. The new, young vendors are eyed suspiciously by the old-timer vendors. The new, younger vendors don’t even notice. The old-timers cling to tradition and the new, young vendors dare to accept credit cards! Scandalous!
#4. Shoppers can be categorized. There are the laser-focused regulars who are in and out of the market within 5 minutes carrying fully loaded cloth bags back to their cars; an inspiration really. There are the Saturday morning strollers who carry a cup of coffee while they slowly do laps around and around the market as they smile and say hello to each vendor. They rarely buy, but they are important “fixtures” and I genuinely notice their absence if they miss a week. There are the “weekend warrior” farmers who want to have in depth discussions about root rot with someone who will understand their pain. My favorites are the new-to-town shoppers. So much enthusiasm! They ask a zillion questions and leave feeling like they are no longer anonymous in their new hometown.
#5. Farmer Market vendors are, for the most part, really nice people. Yes, there might be some scammers at your local farmer’s market and you need to be aware, but mostly the vendors are just really good honest folks trying to make a living with their own hands. I can go to any market and spot the phonies. I can also easily pick out the hardworking, genuine vendors. It is from them that I buy my local honey, handmade soap, my Saturday night’s dinner of bison burgers, and the cheese to put on top. It is with them that I will stop to chat about weather or to compliment the beauty of what they brought to market that day.
So I ask you, where else can you find this much free entertainment on a Saturday morning? Head out this next weekend armed with the information above, with coffee cup in hand and do the Farmer’s Market Stroll……you never know what you will find.