5 Tips to Thrive at a Farmer's Market, Week #4: Market First, Grocer Later

Through years spent peddling wares at farmer’s markets, I have noticed a theme popping up that is common among untrained patrons. People, though seemingly searching for a direct and honest source of sustenance, refuse to change their weekly shopping routine. Grocery getting habitually fits in on the way home from work, and the result is a full larder when market day rolls around. What is anyone going to buy from a farmer-vendor when everything they need is already at home?

Trinkets. Folks who visit markets seeking a novel experience spend money rather foolishly, purchasing impulsively and often carrying home food items so bizarre they will rot in the refrigerator before research to successfully serve the luxury is completed. A grocery list serves as an agenda; if we’ve completed our agenda prior to the trip, all we’re doing is wasting time and money. Yet, I see it all the time: families wandering in search of something - anything - to take home as a token of their farmer’s market experience. Their frivolous spending creates opportunities for resale vendors to thrive, watering down market authenticity for serious shoppers. We’ve turned the foundation of the future food landscape into something similar to a gift shop at Disney Land. That, friends, should concern us.

Sometimes a solution seems so intuitive we overlook it entirely, thus mitigating its effectiveness, and this example is a good illustration of the point. If we’re going to strengthen the local food system in a meaningful way we can’t shop from it as an afterthought. Serious dollar reallocation is necessary to shift influence over land, animals, and plants away from agribusiness and back to a trustworthy source.

Put the farmer’s market first on your shopping agenda, and set a personal goal to get as much from vendors as possible. I bet you’ll be surprised at how many items can be checked off the list. We value our food more when it isn’t provided in seemingly limitless quantities, and valuable food is not prone to be wasted. Reverse the priority order: funnel a majority of your food dollars into the local economy, then visit the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends. The shift can change our landscape dramatically.