I love the farmers’ market and rarely have issues with even the most rough-and-tumble New Yorkers when I go to mine. But I occasionally observe big poor etiquette. I called a local farmer and consulted a copy of the forthcoming 19th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for Today for a concise, highly opinionated market manners guide.
1. Don’t crush the produce
Whether it’s an avocado (you lucky Californians!), a tomato, or a peach, be gentle when handling. Morris Kernan, owner of New Jersey’s Kernan Farms, says that by and large his customers are very polite, standing in line and waiting their turns, but that occasionally he’ll see someone bruising produce in an effort to find the ideal specimen. “Squash and potatoes, you don’t care, but peaches and tomatoes are very delicate.” He might pipe up to ask you to “just be a little easier with the produce.”
2. Don’t haggle over price
You might be offered a deal, especially at day’s end, and I love a bargain, but in my opinion this isn’t the place to haggle. It’s really tough for farmers to make ends meet after driving often hours to arrive at the market, and their prices tend to reflect the very lowest they can afford to offer you.
3. BYO bags
Try to remember to bring your own canvas bags so you don’t have to use plastic bags unnecessarily. If you have a few nice canvas totes stashed by the front door, you’ll be more likely to remember them.
4. Watch your bike
As a cyclist, I’ll often pedal to my local spot, but—even though it’s a hassle—I lock it up away from the clutch of hungry shoppers, because my market is packed with kids in strollers, people in wheelchairs, and lots of humans moving quickly. A bike is bound to roll over or get grease on somebody, so maybe use the time you saved getting there to just park it.
5. Don’t eat over the samples
If apples or peaches are out and sliced for you to try, great. Use the toothpicks that are (hopefully!) provided, try not to touch anything with your hands, and snack on your sample away from the platters. No one is going to want the fruit you literally drooled over while deciding between peach variety is juiciest. Kernan laughs, “We try not to let that happen by putting the toothpicks in… and [having someone hold] ‘em in a big plate.”
6. Return an unwanted item to its spot
Just like you would in a grocery store or boutique, try to return the item about which you’ve changed your mind to its rightful home.
7. Be aware of the line
Try to notice who preceded you to the cashiers so you don’t accidentally jump ahead of anyone who has been waiting longer. The guy cradling a 20-lb watermelon will appreciate it.
8. Don’t talk on your cell
Post’s book reminds us that it’s never OK to talk on your phone while paying for purchases. “It’s disrespectful to the cashier and the delay you cause is disrespectful to other customers.”
9. Have your money out
This is a common issue. You’ve been waiting in line for a while, and someone invariably rolls to the front, dumps nine different produce items onto the counter to roll around, and waits until everything is tallied before rooting through her bag for the smaller bag which contains a wallet that contains a $50 bill. Have your cash out and ready, and try to bring small bills.
Do all this, and you’ll feel that much more righteous with your locally procured, lower-carbon-footprint kale when you get home.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.