5 Rules for Shopping at the Farmers’ Market

How to not be a produce pest

Overwhelmed by the modern food world? Food and comedy writer Jason Kessler breaks down the confusion with five handy rules. Today he shares some tips when visiting your local farmers’ market.

We Californians are #blessed that our state is essentially the garden of America (while somehow not being the Garden State…) with 9 of the 10 most productive agricultural counties in the entire nation calling the Golden State home. One of the best by-products of our agricultural bounty is the existence of farmers’ markets all over Los Angeles every single day of the week. While they may seem like produce nirvana to the casual observer, a few bad apples (pun very much intended) can spoil your whole farm-to-you shopping experience. If everyone would follow these five simple rules, though, the farmers market would be a much friendlier place. 

1. Two samples per stall.
Most farmers are gracious enough to let you sample their vegetal wares before you commit. Don’t take advantage of this by using those samples as a replacement meal. Fresno’s Arnett Farms puts out an elaborate sample display that could make the best stone fruit sampler platter in the world, but that doesn’t mean you should pull up a chair and go to town. Use samples for what they’re intended: deciding if you want to go full pluot or not. 

2. Check a few pieces for ripeness, make your choice, and get lost.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re about to check out the pears when somebody gets there first and proceeds to squeeze, sniff, prod, poke, and generally assault all of the available pear wares – for ten minutes. I get it. You want to find the best possible piece of fruit. That doesn’t mean you get to conduct a full-on, TSA-style investigation in the process.

3. You may not monopolize more than two minutes of the farmer’s time.
Who knows produce better than the people who grow it? Farmers can be amazing resources, chock-full of advice about the best time to eat a certain peach or how to  prepare turnips. As with your favorite high school history teacher, though, there’s a limit to how much you’re allowed to ask before the rest of the class wants to pummel (pomelo?) you. Feel free to ask specific questions, but don’t forget that there are other veggie lovers that need some of that farmer’s time, too.

4. Bring a stroller/shopping cart/Segway and prepare to get death stares.
We’re a city that loves farmers’ markets. Wednesdays in Santa Monica and Sundays in Hollywood get so packed that they can feel more like music festivals than markets. As such, don’t bring your giant accessories with you. If you want to bring your little one, strap on a Baby Björn. If you can’t carry your massive haul of leafy greens and root vegetables in a tote bag, invest in a compact cart that won’t get in everyone’s way. The more room you take up, the more your fellow market-goers have an excuse to hate you.

5. Don’t ask a farmer to price match.
Sometimes different farmers sell the same piece of fruit for different prices. Mind-blowing, right? That’s the free market economy for you and there’s nothing more insulting than going up to one farmer and telling her that So-and-So Farms is selling their nectarines for $2.50 a pound and you think that’s a more fair price than the $3 a pound that she’s charging. This isn’t Target. There is no price matching. If you like the price at So-and-So Farms, buy from them. Farmers set their own prices and if you want to buy their produce, pay their price. It’s rude to try to negotiate a price using a competing farmer’s rates. If you’re buying a ton of stuff, there may be some room for bargaining, but that’s a tomato of a different color entirely.