Chances are that, given the weather this summer, you’ve been spending a lot of time at your favorite neighborhood farmer’s markets. While, like me, you probably never tire of the splendor of these markets, you also, like me, probably can’t help scratching your head over some of their idiosyncrasies. To that end, I’ve dissected the market culture—from who shops and sells there (and why), who shouldn’t shop and sell there, (or be there at all for that matter, read: middle-aged burnouts doing renditions of Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey”), and how come I can never walk away from produce that’s bigger than my head.
Let’s have a look at each in further detail:
1. The types of people that sell stuff
2. The types of people that shop there
3. The things I actually buy
Types of People that Sell Things at Farmers Markets
(on a 1-10 scale of acceptability)
Farmers, Ranchers, Fishmongers and Foragers: 10 The only people we really need to be there and who should be there.
Artisans: 8 People like pastry-, bread-, and pasta-makers—all acceptable and welcome if they use locally sourced ingredients.
Value Adders: 6.5 Soap-makers, herbal-infusion alchemists, jelly/jam/pickle canners—all OK if it’s produced from things you make on your farm. Otherwise marginally acceptable.
Flower Vendors: 6 Capitalizing on a captive audience gleefully spending money on local food and can’t resist buying fresh flowers.
Plant People: 5 Ok, you can stay, but only if your plants are cool, native, come from non-GMO seed and cost the same or less as what I can get at the nursery.
Buskers: 2.5 to 4, depending on quality Of varying capabilities ranging from the guy who sings too loud to overcompensate for the fact he can’t hold a note, to the sad-looking Asian kid playing the cello to a couple of kids singing out of tune and getting money out of your pocket.
Jewelry Makers: 1 From people making stuff out of sticks to the ubiquitous Fimo clay earring and pendant makers. I always ask myself what the hell they have to do with a farmers market.
Fringe capitalists: -1 Trying to make a buck on things like African-patterned baskets made in China and hacky sacks woven from Tibetan beads.
Types of People That Shop at Farmers Markets
Many market denizens are people you might rather not see (unless you belong to the same tribe). A few of the more common types spotted on market day are:
Tourists who compulsively shop at the market, and then leave behind the stuff they bought in their relative’s fridge.
Vegans and Vegetarians I support you supporting your local farmer—just don’t sneer at me when I’m walking out of the market with a pig leg over my shoulder
The nouveau riche They want to shop there so they can tell other nouveau riche friends that "I’m hip to the local food scene" without admitting that they do not cook anything they buy. The help does that.
Chefs/food Service Sourcing the freshest local ingredients to make wonderful food with&mdashkeeping it real
Hippies: Hey man, I brought my own bag and my Nancy’s yogurt container from 1992 to refill—get out of my way you yuppie bastards!
People with big-ass strollers: I get the family outing and everything, but Jesus, can’t you strap on a Bjorn? (full disclosure: I’ve been one of these people).
People with a Cause asking you to sign their petition for whatever cause du jour they are supporting. They are attracted to markets like sharks to blood. Yes, I’d like to free Mumia. No, I don’t want to support Larouche and his Hitler-mustachioed photos of Obama. Can I just eat my $12 tamales and listen to the steel drums without being accosted?
So-called "normal" people just trying to fill their pantries with good food while getting to know their farmers and purveyors in the process.
Things I Buy and I Don’t Know Why
I always buy things I don’t want or need at farmers markets. Some common items that end up in my reusable bags made from recycled plastic bottles sourced from beaches where they were washed up in (pick a third-world country) are:
Jars of anything Pickles, jams, whatever. I never know why I buy $9 jars of jam. I hardly even eat jam. But I feel like I should have six of them in my fridge at all times.
Honey sticks Damn, those kids can really pester you about getting these lethal sugar injections. My will breaks for 25 cents a stick after 16 seconds of whining.
Expensive lettuce In the Pacific Northwest this stuff grows like weeds. I love the taste of fresh greens, but why am I compelled to buy a small $7 bag of "wild and spicy mix" every time?
Mushrooms growing in weird blocks that look like Styrofoam Sure, it’s a clever gift for the holidays. But why would I buy one of these when I can ask someone who spends the time walking through the woods to forage for me some A+++ quality morels or boletes?
$10-a-box caramels Lovely, generally packaged beautifully, and downright expensive for melted sugar.
Exotic varieties of anything Why do I have an intense desire to buy purple potatoes? Why do I think rainbow chard tastes better than "regular" chard? Why am I thinking of buying red wheat berries and my own counter-top grain mill?
Any big-ass produce A peach as big as my kid’s head? Gotta have it. Beets that look like they were grown near Chernobyl? Yes! Softball-sized apples? Mine. I like buying big-ass produce.
Do you agree with our assessment? Tell us about your Market experience. What's your favorite or most maddening aspect of them?