written by Ilene Ross
photos by Gina Weathersby
If I’m not traveling, Saturday means a trip to Findlay Market. It fulfills all of my weekend needs. What could be a monotonous 20-minute robot-like spree through a fluorescent lit grocery store becomes an unhurried day of shopping, eating, and socializing in the sunshine. These leisurely days are made especially enjoyable because of the relationships I’ve built up over the years with the farmers, shopkeepers, and vendors. The interaction with the people who grow and produce our food is invaluable, and it’s exactly the reason why I choose to shop here as opposed to mindlessly pushing a metal cart down big box store aisles. I especially cherish the fact that my children know how to buy meat from a butcher, and not from under plastic. The social skills they learn from interacting with people while we do our errands are instrumental in forming their character, as well as their self-esteem.
Our local farmers are some of the hardest working people I know, and they’re exceedingly knowledgeable about what they grow as well as how to utilize it. If it weren’t for farmers, we would have no food, and they deserve our utmost respect. If you’re not a frequent market shopper, I urge you to become one, at least on a part-time basis. There is still plenty of produce to be found during the fall season, and most of the farmers will be Findlay until Thanksgiving.
Ok, so now that you’ve decided to become a regular at your local market, there are some simple rules of etiquette to keep in mind while shopping. I’ve compiled a list of these-some come from the farmers themselves- as well as some hints I think will help you enjoy your day. But, most of all, I urge you to slow down your pace, enjoy the experience, and take it all in. The sights, sounds, and smells of the market are what will make it the high point of your week.
• DO sample before you buy. But only the samples that are offered to you. That’s what they are there for. Farmers and other vendors are justly proud of their wares and love for you to try before you buy. Also, it’s the best way to know that you’re going to like the products you’re getting for your hard earned dollars.
• But, DON’T be the person who samples everything in the market if you have no intention of making a purchase. Farmers are there to make money, and food used for samples is food that obviously can’t be sold. Also, I think we all know that if you sample something out of a particular box or carton, that’s the one you buy, right?
• Bring your own bags. *Note, Some markets have banned plastic bags, so check websites before you head out the door.
• Have your money ready, make your purchase, and get out of the way. Conversation is wonderful-that’s exactly why you’re here- but attempting to monopolize a vendor during peak market hours means less business for them, and pissed off people behind you. Want to enjoy a leisurely chat? Wait until the line has died down, or arrive later in
the day, but, not so late that you’re holding up a much anticipated departure. Better yet, make yourself useful and chat while helping your favorite farmer pack up.
• Please corral your baby stroller, meandering toddler, dogs, market carts, wandering Grandma, etc. In other words, round up your large group and try not to block the aisles. But, honestly, it really is best to just leave your canine friends at home. Dogs have been known to pee on low lying displays, get underfoot, and, as one of my favorite Findlay shop owners recently told me, her dog has been known to snatch baguettes right out of unwitting shopper’s market baskets. You’ve been warned.
• Get off your phone and respect the vendor. Look them in the eye while paying and don’t just throw the money on the table. So rude.
• Arrive with small bills, especially $1s and $5s, particularly if you arrive early in the day. Don’t try to pay for a $1 purchase with a $100 bill. Exact change is always appreciated as well. Some vendors are now using credit and debit cards via the Square, but keep in mind that they have to pay a percentage for each of those purchases. Cash is always king to a small business owner. Farmers have very slim margins to begin with, and any place they can save money can mean savings for you as well.
• Respect the posted hours of the market. In the morning, farmers and vendors need time to set up and display their wares. At the end of the day, they want to pack up as quickly as possible and get home. Pretend that the farm stand has a locked door just like any other retail environment. Does Biggs let you in before they officially open because you have to get to your son’s soccer game? NO.
• Don’t squeeze, poke, prod, caress, fondle, massage, and or otherwise touch the produce. Delicate items like tomatoes and peaches bruise quite easily, and nobody wants to be the one to purchase items that have been manhandled. Damaged goods are lost revenue.
• Unless a farmer provides a bin especially designed for this purpose, do NOT shuck the corn at the market. I repeat, do NOT shuck the corn at the market. It makes a huge mess, and honestly, your corn will stay fresher until you get home.
• Keep in mind that the prices at markets might not necessarily be cheaper than the grocery store, but, keep your complaining to yourself, and remember that what you’re buying is the freshest, most nutrient dense produce possible, grown by people you know and trust. You’re also paying for variety, taste, and cost of labor. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for. When it comes to bargaining, would you do that at Kroger? No, I didn’t think so. Unless the farmer offers you a better price towards the end of the day or on a bulk purchase, no haggling allowed.
• Try new things and be flexible. The market is a great place to try heirloom varieties of vegetables you would never see at grocery stores. They might not look like what you’re used to seeing, but the flavor and freshness is incomparable. If you arrived with a recipe for peach crisp, only to find no peaches, go for the plums, they’ll work just as well. How will you know? Just ask, especially when it comes to preparing the fruits and vegetables. Most of the farmers I know are superior cooks and excel at canning and preserving their own produce. They’re usually delighted to share their knowledge.
• Be kind and polite. Again, as I said above, farmers work harder than anyone I know to produce the food that we eat. Do NOT disparage someone’s produce. Do NOT complain that someone’s prices are better than someone else’s. Do not EVER leave your garbage on somebody’s market stand. EVER. Pay compliments. Everyone loves to hear how much you’ve enjoyed the “fruits” of their labor. Especially farmers.
• Respect the growing season. Plan your menus by the calendar and you’ll find the best that nature has to offer. Not sure what’s in season? I love this simple to use site with its colorful chart http://madebysa.com/food/
• Go early in the day for the best selection and become a regular. Your favorite vendor will save goodies for you and even message you when something special is coming in. Are you someone who does a lot of canning? Guess what? Some farmers might even grow a specific variety just for you if you plan to buy in bulk. That certainly doesn’t happen at Meijer.
• Bring a cooler bag. You’ll want to keep your items fresh while you shop, and then after while you’re hanging out with friends over a beer in the OTR Biergarten.