This is a guest post by Mary Crimmins. As the market manager of the 12 South Farmers Market in Nashville, Tennessee and writer of The Locavore Mama, she fields questions, comments, and a few complaints from customers every week. Here she shares a few of the most frequent problems shoppers at her farmers market face and how she responds.
Every farmers market has both pros and cons. I'm sure everyone who has been to a farmers market has many great things to say about it, and perhaps a few complaints. This is largely because there are many variables in any given market. Every market varies in location, size, time of day, time of year and has specific rules and regulations. And because of that, every market won't work best for everyone.
So let's get into the nitty gritty and address real people's market complaints:
Parking: "One of my favorite markets has literally no parking unless you get there right when they open, which is GOOD in that it's become quite popular but BAD for me and my schedule"
I agree. Parking can be one of the most frustrating issues at markets. I like to remind people that whenever you are dealing with an urban or large scale event, there will most likely be an issue with parking. In order to have a market on some green space, chances are the parking will be limited. I encourage people to carpool, walk, ride their bikes, or take public transportation. Overall, this issue takes patience and is just one of those things you learn to expect.
Times: "Why aren't you open longer? I can't get off work in time to make it to the market before if closes"
Choosing times for a market is very difficult. Market managers have to take into account that the farmers and vendors still have to drive home (often several hours) after the market and tear down. I know at my market, I had to have it end at 6:30 pm on a weekday because half of the season it gets dark earlier and we have no lighting at the park. As with any event, specific times won't work for everyone and my encourage is to ask a friend to help you out, or visit another market that works better with your schedule.
Money: "I didn't bring cash, and now I have to leave to go to an ATM. I won't be coming back because of the traffic."
This is one of those issues that usually resolves itself after one visit. Shopping at a farmers market is a different experience than going to the grocery store. Since you are dealing with individual vendors, each vendor will take payments differently. Once you visit a few times, you will learn how much cash to bring, and who takes credit cards. Some markets sell script you can buy with a credit card at the information booth that you can then use as cash with the vendors.
Supply: "I've been waiting for strawberries and by the time I got here they were all sold out. The farmers need to bring more."
Most of the farmers pick their produce on the morning of the market, and can only bring what is ready for harvest. Crops are planted months in advance and the supply is limited. This is one of the issues when you are dealing with a small farm - there is not an unlimited supply. Grocery stores order from several mass scale farms to insure they never run out. You are buying directly from one farmer's crop. If you want to make sure that a specific item is not sold out, it would be best to contact the farmer directly beforehand and arrange to pre-order.
Education: "I'm new to farmers markets and don't know how this all works. I feel intimated and don't know where to start, and no one came up to help me."
It can be very intimidating when you don't know the basics of a market. When visiting a new market, it's a great idea to find the information booth and ask any questions you might have. You can simply just say "This is my first time, what do I do?" and someone should be able to help you out. It's hard for the staff of a market to know who needs help and who doesn't, and will usually create a central location (like an information booth) for customers to come up to. There are also many resources on farmers markets, so do a little research on the basics before you head out. You can start with these 10 Tips for Farmers Market Shopping.
Farming Practices: "It's hard to know what the farming practices are with each farm. I think it would be grand if all the vendors had a printed statement of their farming practices. What do they feed the animals, what, if any, pesticides are used, that sort of thing."
I think one of the best ways to get to know your food, is by talking to your farmer. These are great questions to ask them. Of course, sometimes you don't have time for that, or they are busy with other customers. I always do research on the farmers online when I get home to learn a little more about each farm. Farm websites are typically packed with information on their practices, and it helps me feel connected and invested. I would also encourage you to go visit the farms and really see for yourself how these farms operate.
Music: "The music is just too loud, I can't handle it."
This is a hard one to address because everyone's volume capacity is different. Some want it louder, some want it quieter. My encouragement is to allow the music to become part of the overall enjoyment of the market. It might not be your taste, and the volume may bug you, but just remember it's about the food. Don't let that get in the way of the joy of shopping locally. I would also encourage you to go to the info booth and share your opinion on the volume. More feedback will help the music volume level.
Overall, farmers market are places of shopping and community. Every market is faced with specific challenges because of their location and has to deal with the limitations of that space. That is what makes them unique and fun. It's a beautiful environment of many quirky small businesses that are ultimately there to bring you incredible local food. It's a different way of shopping that takes a little getting used to. My hope is that you can learn to enjoy the process (including the bumps along the way) and get to the immense rewards of shopping locally.