[NAFEX] Farmers Market Manners (long)

Richard Moyer ramoyer at gmail.com
Sun May 22 17:04:37 EDT 2011

Like Rivka, I sell fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  Being
the majority of my family income, customer relations matters, and I
still have much to learn in this area.  Please find my comments
embedded in yours below.

> From: "Stephen Sadler" <Docshiva at Docshiva.org>
> Subject: [NAFEX] farmers' market manners
> At our local farmers' markets, people can taste samples of nearly anything -
> I've never seen a request turned down. It can be very helpful, especially
> this time of year with small fruit, which were not good at all last year.
Some customers at our market (including chefs) are adventurers, who
come to our booth and ask "what's new".  I tend to offer samples to
this subset, instead of everyone.  So uncommon fruits such as jujube,
juneberries, wineberries, etc, sell well when I  have these out and
encourage folks to taste them.  I tend not to have a sign encouraging
tasting, because a portion of our market traffic samples often and
seldom buys.

> However, when I don't like something, or might want to sample from a few
> stands and come back, it can feel awkward. Some people will look expectantly
> as I sample - the expectantly being an expectation of a compliment and
> purchase. Others allow tasting privacy, turning to other customers. Still
> others want feedback, positive or negative, and are most happy with an
> honest response.
Realize that growers have varied levels of debt, hope and dreams
attached to these berries, and sacrifices to get to this point.  There
are a range of sellers and a range of customers, but some growers take
their produce very personally.  What helped me deal with this
rejection is comparing my sales to those fields where if only 10-20%
of customers buy, it's a good day.   Some customers pick up the
sample, then turn their back or walk away, for a measure of privacy.
I'm learning to handle this (perceived) rejection, and need the honest

>Last Sunday I did little tasting, but an inversely
> proportional amount of regretting. Some rich-smelling strawberries reneged
> on their promise, less-than-sweet and pale on the palate.
I'd request the variety name of the berry from the grower, and let the
grower know how poor they are.  Conscientious growers will learn what
they can change to please you, if enough customers give honest
feedback.  There are strawberries at our market with the consistency
and flavor of an unripe pear, and the new vendor offering these needs
honest feedback.
> I'm not looking for free eats, nor to offer anything inconsiderate. If it
> hurt no feelings, I would taste at every strawberry stall then go back to
> the one with the best. When I haven't liked something, the worst response I
> get is a look of resentment. The best I get is, "Oh, no, these aren't the
> best yet. My midseasons are amazing - come back in a month and I'll give you
> some to try."
>From my favorite fruit market for citrus:
Me, looking at bins of various citrus: "I want some good citrus".
Owner:  "I don't have any, come back next Tuesday when I return from
Florida, and I'll have something your kids will enjoy."
Me:  "Why are you selling these now."
Owner:  "I have customers who shop with their eyes, who care little
about how food tastes, yet are offended if I don't have citrus every
time they are here.  These bins are for them."
Me:  "I'll be back next week, to taste and buy a case or two from the
new truckload."
So Stephen, if you can find vendors for this type of relationship,
they're out there.  I've found them in the street markets of several
countries where I've lived, and you can get to this level of trust
even with little spoken communication, if they know you'll pay their
price for highest quality produce.  You are not the average customer,
and a subset of growers would like to meet the challenge of earning
and keeping your business.  I wonder if our modern reliance on
packaged foods, in and out of season, and recipes that mask instead of
feature fresh foods, have compromised our ability to find and reward
growers of high quality foods.

Perhaps, as you sample from multiple vendors before a sale, you could
honestly say "I'm very particular" or "I'm looking for a certain
flavor" or "I'm trying to find the flavor I grew up with" (or another
very personal remembrance).  Ginda has good customer questions below,
as well.  The advantage of these, if you choose not to buy: the grower
is less likely to feel their berries are not for everyone, just they
are not for you.  Stephen, if I remember correctly, you are a
supertaster, a minority, and therefore your thresholds for an
acceptable berry are much higher.  So consider framing the transaction
as you are (somewhat) hard to please, and the growers are less likely
to take offense.  And those that have small amounts of their very best
may call you over when they see you, for something they've reserved
just for you.  The elderly woman who did this for me at her stand in
Seoul, she won me over as the primary source for our family
> Perhaps I'm at times oversensitive, and at such times more acutely perceive
> sensitivity in others. I think that the farmers/sellers probably know when
> there produce is great and when it's not; but some days I want to leave no
> feather ruffled.
If they choose to sell face to face, they risk rejection, and they
must deal with it.  You can graciously explain your preferences, but
you do not owe anyone a sale.
> What are the manners and sensitivities one might consider? How do you
> shoppers and sellers of produce feel about tasting and walking away? I do
> give an honest critique when asked, but the ones who ask seem to already
> know the answer. This is not, of course, a problem with the farmers/sellers
> I know; but I shop several markets, and some sellers come and go.
> ~ Stephen
Realize that some sellers are not the people who nurtured and picked
these fruits, and their goal is primarily to move as much fruit that
day as possible.  Some of them are nontasters, they truly cannot
distinguish certain qualities in certain foods.  Big and pretty are
their primary standards, and it works for many customers.  You're
looking for a different relationship, and that's the beauty of farmers
markets, finding and building relationships with growers who share
some of your goals.
Richard Moyer
(See one more comment below.)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
> [mailto:nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Road's End Farm
> Sent: Friday, May 20, 2011 2:34 PM
> To: North American Fruit Explorers
> Subject: Re: [NAFEX] strawberries
> On May 20, 2011, at 5:17 PM, Bob Hartman wrote:
>> Sticking your nose on or near fruit doesn't sound good to me.  At  fruit
>> shows some people want to pick up the fruit to smell it.  We have to
>> put out signs for people not to pick up the fruit because we are going to have
>> people tasting the fruit and having someone's nose next to a fruit  is not
>> appetizing.
>> Bob
For certain people, smell is more important than looks in evaluating
fresh foods, for smells trigger deep emotional centers in the brain.
At my stand, I tend to hold up fragile or limited foods for people to
smell.   I am more concerned about where their fingers have been,
compared to their noses.
> When I do this in groceries, I'm not sticking my nose on the fruit.
> And I'm not blowing on it, or exhaling towards it. I'm inhaling in its
> general vicinity. I suspect Ginda, who's the one who originally posted
> about choosing strawberries by scent, does the same thing.
> If I could only smell it with my nose touching it, I wouldn't expect
> it to taste like much (for strawberries, or tomatoes, or other
> aromatic produce).
> If there are samples actually out to taste, I don't need to smell it.
> But in any case, I never assume that fruit on the shelf in a grocery,
> or on a market stand, is untouched. Even if people only touched it
> with their hands, they may have touched their noses with their hands
> since they were last next to soap and water.
> If I put out samples to taste, I wash them first.

> -- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 5 mostly
> Fresh-market organic produce, small scale

> Message: 9
> Date: Sat, 21 May 2011 21:40:34 -0400
> From: Ginda Fisher <list at ginda.us>
> Subject: Re: [NAFEX] farmers' market manners
> To: North American Fruit Explorers <nafex at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Message-ID: <990C5075-DBC3-4D85-ADD4-68F54A468A2C at ginda.us>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

> On May 21, 2011, at 8:53 PM, Stephen Sadler wrote:
> At our local farmers' markets, people can taste samples of nearly anything
>> -
>> I've never seen a request turned down. . .
>> What are the manners and sensitivities one might consider? How do you
>> shoppers and sellers of produce feel about tasting and walking away?
> <snip>
> Speaking as a customer, and not a seller:
> I don't ask to taste anything unless I plan to purchase _something_ from
> that vendor.  It might be something other than what I tasted, and it might
> be less than I had hoped to buy.  But I, too, feel awkward about tasting a
> vendor's wares and walking away.  For what it's worth, I feel no such
> compunction in the supermarket, where I often try the free samples and
> almost never buy the wares being pushed.  I guess I am buying stuff from the
> store, although the free samples are often supplied by an outside vendor and
> not the store.
> As you said, the vendors at a farmers' market usually know what's good.  I
> have had excellent success simply asking them.  "What is your best
> strawberry today?  When will you have the best peaches?"  That doesn't help
> you pick among vendors, but it does help you pick within a vendor's wares.
> I look for vendors who refrigerate their produce (in the truck).  They often
> handle it better in other ways.  If I find a vendor I like, I tend to become
> a repeat customer of _that_ vendor.  I've had pretty good luck with farmers'
> markets.
> Ginda

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