My Love/Hate Relationship with Farmers’ Markets

I can count the number of times I’ve been to a farmers’ market this year. On my fingers. On one hand. (My time in Hawaii excepted, because the promise of tree-ripened mangos, papayas, and apple bananas can entice me into all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally do.) The discrepancy between belief and action surprised me until I realized that my appreciation of farmers’ markets is primarily intellectual. For all the good fruit, community-building, local-economy-supporting, environment-supporting vibes, I don’t like being there.

Blasphemy.

I took Beth’s Show Your Plastic challenge (well, at least the collecting part) this week, and found that most of my plastic waste is, in fact, packaging from delicate summer fruit: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. It’s all stuff that I could readily get at the farmers’ market with significantly less plastic; I just don’t feel much motivation to go. First world problem? Oh yeah.

I’ve identified the reasons I don’t go to farmers’ markets more often. Maybe you can help me come up with solutions.

Problem #1: I hate crowds.

As in hate hate. If you can have claustrophobia about being enveloped by people (small spaces without people = no problem), that’s what I have. Being stuck in a sea of elbows, bad perfume + body odor, and double-wide baby strollers makes my blood pressure rise and my mood plummet. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that my local markets enjoy such good business. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can only be at the farmers’ market for a few minutes before I start to shut down and look for an empty corner in which to whimper.

Problem #2: The good farmers’ market is at the same time as my pottery studio time.

There are two nearby weekend markets. The Saratoga market, which has reasonable prices, manageable crowds, and really good fruit, is on Saturday morning. So is open studio at pottery. There is very little that I prioritize over being elbow deep in mud on Saturday mornings. Seeing friends? Sleeping in? Buying food? Meh.

Problem #3: The other farmers’ market has an unacceptable level of smug. 

The Campbell farmers’ market: a little richer, a lot whiter, and a whole lot smugger. It’s like taking the entire weekly population of Whole Foods and concentrating it on three street blocks. Phenomena observed there: designer reusable bags, eco-sunglasses, bamboo baby strollers, crappy overpriced crafts, pedigreed dogs with non-toxic toe nail polish, yoga goddesses going on about their latest juice cleanse. I don’t particularly like the ambiance at Whole Foods, but the Campbell market is about ten times worse and just as expensive. Time it takes for this place to get my back up: 5 minutes. Time it takes for me to complete my shopping: 20 minutes. I’m rubbish at math, but even I can see that that isn’t a good equation.

Problem #4: I don’t like talking to people.

One of the touted benefits of going to farmers’ markets is getting up close and personal with farmers. Here you can talk to farmers about their growing practices, pest management strategies, crop rotation, colony collapse. It’s a terrific thing to know how your food is grown, but that doesn’t change an inherent personality flaw: I don’t like talking to strangers. I have a limit of maybe five new people a day, tops. So once I’ve talked to a few farmers, I’m done, and just want to mutely shove cucumbers into my reusable produce bags. In fact, I sometimes welcome the anonymity of buying from the supermarket, where I can’t be guilt tripped into paying $4 a pound for organic heirloom tomatoes that the grower wrested at great personal cost and effort from nematode-infested soils.

Problem #5: I can’t always justify the cost.

I would love to support my local farmers all the time, but it bumps up my grocery tab by as much as 50%. $3 for a small basket of strawberries, $6 for a dozen truly cage free, happy hen eggs, $2.50 for a pound of potatoes. Ouch. I still have no guarantee that they are grown more sustainably than the stuff at my local greengrocer. In The Conundrum David Owen has a rather harsh invective against farmers’ markets, but asks a question I would love to know the answer to: if lower efficiency farming uses more land to produce the same amount of food, is it really greener? It’s a complex question that has to take into account externalities from conventional high efficiency farming (higher levels of pesticides, nitrogen run-off) and whether the small organic farms take away land that would be otherwise available for wildlife (perhaps not), but once again, I find myself wishing sustainability were a quantifiable term.

What kind of relationship do you have with farmers’ markets? Got any clever solutions for me?

Photo credit: NatalieMaynor

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51 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lucy on 06/03/2012 at 17:32

    I used to like the farmers markets because I could take the dog for a Sunday stroll. Not only have they banned dogs (apparently it’s council regulations or some crap), but I work on Sundays, so I really don’t go much anymore. I went yesterday, however, and ended up with no money at the end. I didn’t mean to spend all my money, but everything looked and tasted so delicious that I came away with goats cheese, bread, other cheese, jam, potatoes, and cider. It’s all food I enjoy (believe me!), but I don’t NEED it. That’s why I avoid the farmers markets – I spend too much money.

    I must admit though that the Hobart farmers markets is actually cheaper for many goods, vegies in particular, than the shops. So the overpricing thing isn’t a problem.

    Reply

    • Hi Lucy,

      Funny how easily money spends at the farmers’ market! I think I’m especially prone to getting sidetracked at the pastry and chocolate stands, which I wouldn’t necessarily buy if I were at the supermarket. They can be fun to go to as a treat (if I could find out what ‘off hour’ is), but a bit ruinous to my budget on a regular basis.

      Reply

    • Posted by Joy Williams on 06/03/2012 at 19:54

      Jennifer is a whiner. I’m absolutely not impressed. She doesn’t like to TALK TO PEOPLE? She’s a whiner. She doesn’t like crowds? Sounds like a personal problem. Get over your agoraphobia. She’s a whiner. It’s at the same time as her shop is open… Whine, whine, whine. That’s her choice. Nothing is wrong with farmer’s markets, she’s a whiner.as to the reliability of sustainability, you know what? you can taste the difference and most farmers let you taste, if they don’t, don’t buy from them. This is the whiniest post I’ve ever seen on farmer’s markets. what a whiny little “itch”. get a life, Jennifer, your complaints are just whines, and you really sound stupid. Maybe you should plant something and see how much work you have to do to grow food. It’s not easy, and maybe you would whine less. There’s nothing worse than a whiny person. Nothing.

      Reply

      • Wow. How ironic these words come from Joy.

        Reply

      • Hello Joy,

        It sounds like you’re very upset about my implied criticism of farmers’ markets. I think they’re wonderful meeting places of food, farmers, and communities. However, as a painfully introverted person, I also find them way out of my comfort zone as far as human density, sound, and interaction go. I always thought agoraphobia was the irrational fear of wide open spaces, but I see that it can also refer to uncontrolled social situations. Without wanting to self-diagnose, phobias are not rational and are not something people can readily ‘get over.’

        I grew up with many fruit trees and have a good understanding of the amount of effort involved in growing food. I have no criticism for my local farmers and am happy to support them when I can.

        Reply

        • This is a very classy response to a not-so-classy criticism. Although I really don’t think she put enough emphasis on the word ‘whiner’

          Reply

      • Posted by EcoCatLady on 06/03/2012 at 22:30

        Wow… anger issues anyone?

        Reply

      • Funny, I find Jennifer’s post discussion-provoking, level-headed and well-reasoned. Your comment on the other hand is what strikes me as whiny.

        Reply

  2. Once again, great commentary Jennifer! The main drawback for me in going to farmers markets is that the items that are reasonably priced are almost always larger things, like a giant bunch of broccoli or a whole cauliflower or a bag of oranges. I shop for myself only, and I would have to eat such items for breakfast, lunch and dinner to prevent them from going bad. I love variety in my fruits and veggies so I will go to my supermarket instead which is right around the corner, three times a week to buy ‘onesies and twosies’ rather than my once-a-week farmers market. And I must say, the quality and variety of flash-frozen house brand vegetables at my Ralphs Market now is amazing and ridiculously inexpensive.

    As for the crowds and smugness, I agree with your issues with those factors for the most part. It seems the majority of shoppers float around in a trance and spend hours feeling up each zucchini and tomato on display. It’s the same problem I have with Whole Foods and Trader Joes stores… I want to get in and get out, but the number of shelf-lingerers there is unbearable.

    Notwitstanding Lucy’s wonderful pooch, I must say that people who want to bring dogs to crowded public venues, such as farmers markets, restaurants, or any popular outdoor shopping area where people gather, should consider such excursions from their dog’s perspective. A paved, noisy, crowded place is stressful to dogs, and offers few if any of the pleasures (e.g., doggie scents) they receive from being walked around the block or taken to a dog park. There is little or no bonding going on between dog and owner in such places–the dog is an accessory while its owner is going on about their business. And I have seen too many instances of otherwise well-behaved dogs reacting adversly to sudden, unexpected events that inevitably occur in crowds.

    Reply

    • Hi Donn,

      I also find I don’t plan well enough to load up on an entire week’s worth of vegetables at one go. What ends up happening is that I change my mind about what I want to eat (or get lazy and have salad the whole week instead of cooking), so I end up wasting food. There’s a little greengrocer by my home with incredibly good selection, which allows me a lot of flexibility in making last minute meal plans. And I have to say, frozen veggies are a terrific backup when I want to cook from what I have on hand.

      A few years ago, I was at a crowded flea market in Japan and a tiny little dog (seriously, maybe 3 pounds at most) actually got stepped on. I felt so bad for the dog. No one could see him in the rush. Hah — just noticed that I could substitute my name for ‘dog’ in your advice, and that would be about right!

      Reply

  3. Posted by EcoCatLady on 06/03/2012 at 22:54

    Well, my dear, I fear your “excuses” are downright ironclad compared to mine. I haven’t been to a Farmer’s market since I lived in Norway 25 years ago because they all happen early in the morning and I am a lazy bastard who is never out of bed before noon! So there. I’m sure Joy will have a field day with me!

    OK… well, to be honest, there’s a little once a month hippie market which is held in the evenings, and I went to it a few times, but they didn’t really have any farmers, only a few people selling surplus from their backyard gardens, and lots of vegan cookies full of almond milk, which sort of sounded like a trip to the emergency room from my perspective. But I did buy one loaf of homemade sourdough bread… but that’s the sum total of my farmer’s market experience.

    There is a weekend market that’s open on Saturday afternoons year round (it has an indoor location) but I have been nervous about going because the fellow who runs it is very controversial… I don’t really understand the details and don’t really want to, but there was this whole big swirling brouhaha where a group of people were trying to get an ordinance passed allowing people in Denver to keep backyard chickens (which is currently illegal) and they somehow conspired to keep the guy who runs this market out of it, because they thought he would somehow harm the cause. I dunno… another lame ass excuse I know, but if this guy is crazy enough that they thought he’d keep the chicken bill from passing, who knows…

    Plus, I can walk to the local grocery store, but going to any of the markets would be a 20 minute drive or more. Is that really better? I had the same issue with a CSA that I used to belong to. The farm was on the outskirts of the metro area, so these guys, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they would require people to drive to the farm to get their weekly boxes because they wanted people to have the “farm experience.” Problem was, the pickup times were in the middle of rush hour and it required (not exaggerating here) sitting in traffic for 3 hours to get my stupid veggies – half of which I couldn’t eat because of allergies anyhow! So it was much more of a “traffic jam experience” than a “farm experience” from my perspective.

    I’ll stop ranting now. I mean it’s great to promote local farmers and all, but I also think you have to look at the bigger picture. I also think the price thing is a perfectly valid point. I mean if you have to pay 3 times the amount for your groceries, you have to earn more money to afford that… which for me would mean getting a job, which would require me to burn fossil fuel to get there, plus a whole host of other environmental fallout.

    I think that in the end farmer’s markets are just like everything else… nothing just has a big green sticker on it’s forehead with an indisputable “better” classification. All things are relative.

    Reply

    • Hi Cat,

      There is actually a Friday afternoon farmers’ market that I like, but I’m usually trying to get work done before the weekend and don’t make it too often. I think convenience is a big factor for me, too. I should try the CSA, though. I know one offers pick up not far from my house. I wonder if I would end up wasting a lot of food, since I’m not great about meal planning or coming up with impromptu meals based on what I have on hand!

      While I think Americans *should* spend more on food (real food!), I agree that price is a valid point. It’s not surprising that Whole Foods and farmers’ markets attract the upper crust — many of the rest of us are simply not in a financial position to grocery shop that way all the time.

      Reply

      • Posted by EcoCatLady on 06/04/2012 at 07:24

        I don’t think I really learned how to cook with fresh veggies until I joined a CSA – sort of a baptism by fire experience for me. Of course, once the food allergies got diagnosed, it became a significantly less good deal, plus, my garden usually generates more than I can eat anyhow. But for “normal” people, I think it’s a great way to go!

        BTW – lest the timing of this comment make you think I’ve suddenly become a morning person, thought I’d mention that I haven’t gone to bed yet. Up all night with a sick kitty. Fortunately, it’s been 2 hours with no barfing so I’m finally going to try to catch a few hours of sleep. It’s always something!

        Reply

      • The CSA was the solution for me. It’s 15-20 minutes or so away, but for once a week that’s okay. It’s the kind where they harvest some crops for you, and you get to pick your own as well. Partly because the members put in a (pleasurable) bit of labour, about $16 per week keeps my family of four more than sufficiently in the veggies and some fruits, can’t beat that for organic. Plus flowers! what’s not to love?
        Yes, I got to learn to plan. If I make it a game, it’s not so bad.

        Reply

        • Hi CelloMom,

          $16 a week sounds like a steal. I feel like it was a lot more last time I priced the local ones. (Maybe it’s just California that is ridiculously expensive.) I’ll take another look. The hopeful domestic goddess in me thinks it would be a fun challenge to make food out of whatever I was given!

          Reply

  4. What a great idea for a post! Like you, I like the idea of farmer’s markets more than the reality. I live smack in between two farmer’s markets and usually visit them a couple of times during the growing season. I don’t go more often because: (1) I hate getting up and going anywhere before noon on Saturdays. I have my own little coffee/web surfing/being lazy routine and I love it. Saturday is the only day of the week I can do this so I loathe giving it up. (2) I too have a hard time justifying the expense sometimes. Actually often. (3) Hassle – With the crowds, the difficulty parking and the small selection, I rarely find the energy to make an extra trip to the farmer’s market, when the produce selection at the market is so good. And during the peak summer harvest time they feature food from local farms as well.

    Reply

    • Hi Candi,

      I hear you on the Saturday morning thing. I do that on Sunday mornings — make a big cup of tea, read the Sunday paper, do the puzzles, maybe get dressed and ready to do stuff by 11am (at the earliest). If you’re an introvert, it’s hard to make yourself face the world on your day off!

      Maybe I could approach the Saratoga farmers’ market with a request to extend their hours slightly so I could go after pottery (when I’m most relaxed and crowd-tolerant). They might not listen, but it’d be worth a try.

      Reply

  5. I like Jennifer’s post and I sympathize with some of the points therein.

    1) I don’t like crowds much either. Sorry to dog-lovers, but crowds of people mixed with dogs are the worst. The dogs are barking and lunging to sniff each other and I’m worried about stepping on a tail and/or getting bitten.

    For other people who prefer a less harried (and less hairy) shopping experience, try getting to your farmers market right when it opens. You’ll get the best selection and a much more relaxing experience.

    2) I don’t think it’s that farmers markets are necessarily expensive, but that we are accustomed to paying unnaturally low prices for factory-farmed foods. I haven’t read David Owen’s work, but I think the real question is whether it’s ultimately sustainable to grow lots of food in giant monocultures — acres and acres of corn or wheat or soybeans or strawberries or bananas — especially when those crops require vast inputs of pesticides, herbicides, genetic tinkering, synthetic fertilizers, etc. I’ve actually read that small, diversified farms are MORE productive than the factory farms on an acre-per-acre basis. And if those small farmers are growing naturally or organically, they’re probably improving the soil in the process and supporting a number of beneficial insects and other creatures.

    I also think the farmers market doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg if you have some impulse control. Maybe I’m just lucky in Tennessee, but I think it’s actually cheaper (or not much more expensive) to shop at the farmers markets for things like lettuce, arugula, beets, okra, beans, etc.

    Eggs are a bit more than the el-cheapo supermarket options, but on par or even less expensive than the highest-end offerings at my local supermarket chain.

    I do agree that it’s hard to stomach the cost of Farmers Market milk (I think around $6/gallon), but again that may be because I’ve grown accustomed to paying artificially low prices from factory farms?

    Smugness and self-satisfaction are never good in any situation, but personally I think it’s cool that people are embracing farmers markets. Here in the Nashville area, they’re popping up all over town, not just in the rich neighborhoods. And I suspect that’s the case elsewhere in the USA too. Nor do you have to be rich to shop at a farmers market, especially if you’re prepared to cut out some of the processed junk food that fill aisle after aisle at most supermarkets.

    Reply

    • Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for your comment! I read consistently contradictory information on whether small organic local agriculture is actually more sustainable. (Sustainable being defined as anything all 7 billion of us can partake in without screwing up the planet.) The Rodale studies that organic farms are more productive than big farms aren’t well supported by other independent studies, but I agree that monocropping has HUGE drawbacks with regard to soil health, disease resistance, and insect/bird populations. I have a feeling that any solution we come up with to feed our growing population is going to be a hybrid of everything we’ve got: organic, permaculture, conventional, and GMO. Let there be some biodiversity left, and let people not be starving. Everything else is negotiable for me.

      I actually rarely buy frivolities at the farmers’ market — usually just straight fruit and veg. I’m only slightly worse at the regular market. Thanks to my mom, I price compare even when I don’t mean to, and food is anywhere between 50%-100% more than the market. Cost of living is high here, so it’s not surprising that farmers would also need to charge more, but as much as I’d like to support their livelihood, doing so all the time impoverishes mine! I think I sometimes pay more than $6/gallon of milk — the stuff I love comes in reused glass quarts and is, what, $3? I don’t drink much milk, so it’s worth the occasional splurge.

      I think what bugs me about the smugness is that it’s about conspicuous [green] consumption rather than reducing the amount of stuff we bring into our lives. Personal pet peeve with the green movement.

      Reply

      • Posted by Rosa on 06/05/2012 at 14:22

        A lot of the market gardeners at our farmer’s market are using land that wouldn’t be used for anything at all if not for market gardening, tiny parcels around the cities that were otherwise weedy lots or lawns, so the productivity argument is almost moot for me. I *did* have to chat with a lot of farmers to find that out, but now that I know where I’m going for most things, I don’t have to anymore – i actually stopped buying eggs & milk at the market because the stand tender was so chatty I couldn’t get through the line in a reasonable amount of time.

        Reply

        • Hi Rosa,

          That’s awesome! I get the feeling that the ones at my market aren’t, just based on where they are (Gilroy, Morgan Hill, other nearby agricultural areas), but you’re right that it would be worth talking (sigh) to more of them to find out. There is one urban farm that I know of in my area. I love being able to see their egg-laying hens for myself, but they are almost always out of eggs within the first 10 minutes of selling them!

          Reply

  6. Jennifer, I can relate to many of these challenges. When I do go to my local farmer’s market, I got at 8 am – as soon as it opens – in the morning. That solves the problem with the crowds and maybe it could be coordinated with your pottery time. My local farmer’s market is tiny. I NEVER go to the larger ones as all the fumes from fragranced soaps, essential oils, perfumes, and barbequed/roasted food at not pleasurable to me. When I shop at my health food store, I try to by mostly locally grown vegetables and fruits and the plastic packaging isn’t an issue…so it costs more than the farmer’s market, which is very cheap, but I don’t have the other challenges.

    Good luck! Hope you come up with a good solution.

    Reply

    • Hi Sandra,

      It’s good to know that other introverts face similar challenges! Alas, the good farmers’ market doesn’t open until 9am (slackers!) and pottery starts at 9:30 about 10 miles away, so unless I can learn to shop a lot faster and then teleport, the Saratoga market is going to cut into my precious pottery time. However, I could try getting to the Campbell market early on Sunday. That’s definitely a possibility.

      Hawaii’s farmers’ markets were a lot less expensive than the Natch. If that were the case here, I would feel a lot more motivated to go!

      Reply

  7. Posted by omyogaK on 06/05/2012 at 11:20

    Hi, I can related many things you have said here. I used to go farmer’s market but I cannot stand crowd with full of smug, especially unruly rich brads (and dogs) running & screaming. I cannot accept over priced fruits and vege and their work ethics to start from afternoon – while my local super market open from 8 am AND unjustifiable high price for a peace of broccoli . To be brutally frank, I found many buyers in market are middles class self-indulgent bunch who come with huge 4×4 vehicle to support green economy? My solutions for this, “grow your vegetables” – in small garden or pot of rocket near window and participate local allotment group – you can grow and harvest vege and fruits while socialising other likeminded people.

    Reply

    • Hi omyogaK,

      I think most people who go to the farmers’ markets here drive Priuses. I’m in a techy/wealthy/environmentally aware part of the country, so I should cut them some slack for their designer vegan hemp shoes. ;-) Not my crowd, but hey, I don’t have a crowd.

      Growing your own vegetables is a terrific alternative. Right now it’s not highly feasible for me (I live in a condo with no outdoor space), but that reminds me that I do have some carrot seeds and a bucket…

      Reply

      • Posted by Rosa on 06/05/2012 at 14:25

        maybe there’s a cheaper, differently-timed market in a different neighborhood? Our markets vary really widely by neighborhood and time of day, but I still miss the really small towns’ markets that happen at the crack of dawn and are dirt cheap (but everything’s raised with pesticides and half the farmers are over 80)

        Reply

        • Hmm…there is a Friday afternoon market that I like, but I’m rarely able to make it. There’s also a Thursday evening market in Campbell which is likely to be just as ritzy as the one on Sunday. Maybe I’ll go have a look this Thursday. I never had those tiny markets. Farmers’ markets here are almost more places to see and be seen.

          Reply

  8. Posted by Pat M on 06/05/2012 at 14:19

    Loved reading your post and all of the comments. I don’t care much for going to FMs either, tho’ the idea seems to make sense. OUrs is expensive, and on a windy day it is hot and dirty. A lot of the stuff I wouldn’t use, but some I find interesting. Here’s a twist…I may start going as a vendor with some of my homemade cleaners, if my friend keeps begging me. Not too excited about that, but may give it a try.
    I’m a new follower here. Can’t wait to read more!
    Huge green hugs,
    Pat

    Reply

    • Hi Pat,

      Thanks for commenting, and welcome! Good luck if you do start selling at the markets. I’ve been (mostly idly at this point) contemplating trying to sell my pottery at some of the craftier ones (yep…the ones I’ve just been hating on). We’ll see!

      Off to check out your blog in a moment. :)

      Reply

  9. Posted by Tracy on 06/05/2012 at 17:19

    I’ve been scanning your blog. I’ll be back to read more. I got here by looking up kale chips / stomach aches. Guess I ate too many chips today and got a slightly angry stomach.

    And I relate to your farmers’ market entry. I live near a small city and sometimes the snooty factor gets to me. I keep wanting to go to the market, but never seem to get there. While you’ll find me at a Whole Foods, you’ll also find me at Super Target and Walgreens.

    Reply

    • Hi Tracy,

      Ouch! Not the way I hope most people find my blog. My stomach has difficulty with too much kale as well. Learned that the hard way. Ginger often helps my stomach when it’s upset, if that helps.

      I’m not an all-or-nothing greenie, either. I think it’s all about finding a balance that works for you.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Serena on 06/05/2012 at 18:33

    Not all markets are created equal! I work on a small two-acre organic farm in the north bay area (napa valley) and work the farmer’s market every weekend… I can’t speak for other markets but ours is fun and down to earth, and we base our produce prices on the prices at the grocery store so that they are fair and often even cheaper. And one of the other produce vendors is even cheaper! He sells a head of cauliflower for two bucks and a pound of DELICIOUS asparagus for something like $3.50! And if we are sold out of something or someone can’t make it to the market one week, we invite them to come down to the gardens and pick up what they need during the week. It can get a bit crowded, but not until 11 or so (and it ends at noon)… and most of the people that come are just tourists wandering around anyways. I obviously haven’t been to the markets you speak of, but I just thought I’d put in a good word for farmer’s markets – they aren’t all overpriced and pretentious!

    If you are dedicated to local, organic produce, I would suggest checking out a nearby market in a smaller town. Likely to be less crowds and less smug people, and hey! Might even work with your schedule!

    Reply

    • Hi Serena,

      Thanks for offering your perspective! I have a lot of respect for what you do and would love to stop by your farmers’ market if I’m in the area. (Actually, could I just visit your farm?) Unfortunately, I’m in the Silicon Valley, and you have to drive pretty far to find a smaller town that isn’t part of the big urban sprawl. However, the up side is that there are markets nearby that I’ve never been to, so I could make a point of checking them out.

      Reply

  11. Posted by Andrea on 06/06/2012 at 14:26

    I’m so with you on the issue of too much smug at the farmers’ market closest to me. It’s a 20-minute walk away but feels like the other side of the planet in terms of the demographics.

    As you know I participate in a CSA program that grows veggies in backyard gardens. The rest of the year I do most of my shopping at an independent grocery store that is very pro-local food and lets me avoid the big, evil supermarket chains. I also support two greengrocers in my ‘hood because their customer service is unparalleled. And I grow what I can on my balcony! I think overall I’m doing okay without the farmers’ market. :)

    Oh, and what the heck are apple bananas? Did you mean apples AND bananas? Or is there some weird fruit in Hawaii that combines these two gems into a superfruit?

    Reply

    • Hi Andrea,

      Good to know it’s not just me. :-) I think your solutions are much more creative than mine. I support my local greengrocer mostly, occasionally shop at Whole Foods or the Asian supermarket. I’m feeling inspired to check out the Thursday night market or to make time for the Friday afternoon one.

      Apple bananas are very small, dense, sweet/tart bananas that don’t seem to make it to the mainland often. Unlike mainland bananas, they’re not bland and mushy, but have real flavor! And taste pretty much like sunshine and honey incarnate! They’ve completely spoiled me for regular bananas. If you’re ever in a tropical area, tree ripened bananas are a must.

      Reply

  12. I love this post – you know so much about sustainability and whatnot!

    I have a hate/hate relationship with farmer’s markets. I don’t like to go to them for many of the reasons you’ve listed, but the biggest one issue I have are the crowds. I live in NYC, which is a heavily populated – and therefore congested city – and in Union Square where there’s often a farmer’s market it is like hell. I loathe it, and want to get out as soon as possible. But I also have this problem with alternative stores like Trader Joes and Wholefoods anyway – they’re ALWAYS packed to the brim, and the lines are often long and annoying.

    Sometimes it feels like shopping organically – or attempting to – is more trendy than anything else. I definitely think I’d prefer farmer’s markets more in a smaller city (maybe even like a town – preferably European! haha) where there weren’t as many people. For example, I went to an open air market in Athens, Greece and it was nowhere near as crowded as the ones I’ve been to here in NYC. And it was still very lovely.

    Reply

    • Hi T.S.,

      I don’t think I’d be able to live in NYC without going completely crazy, so you have my admiration for that! I went to a number of smaller farmers’ markets in England and didn’t experience the crowding issue. Bonus: freshly made donut holes! Maybe we both need to move somewhere rural.

      Reply

  13. You are always so honest, I love that. I generally like the Farmer’s Market, but now that you have me thinking, the things that annoy me are:

    1) my bags get so heavy, it feels like my arms may fall off
    2) little fruit selection. Apples, apples apples, apples. Only apples until July.
    3) disappearing cash – where did it go so fast?
    4) homemade baking sold on styrofoam trays
    5) timing – I wish they were there everyday, not just for a few hours on Saturday

    That being said, I have a favourite market that I love, with indie music playing in in different spots, eclectic and interesting people, a warm atmosphere. Sometimes when the weight of the world gets me down, and I feel like we are basically screwed anyway, I walk into that market (it is in a permanent building) and just stand there and take it in, and get all misty eyed and hopeful again.

    Reply

    • Hi Sherry,

      I wonder if a small wheely basket would help with the weight? I can identify with the lugging stuff around issue. Those reusable bags start cutting into my arms!

      Your farmers’ market experience sounds wonderful. I think I get that misty-eyed feeling when I’m out by myself in the woods. Whatever it takes to get us to keep on keeping on is probably worth it.

      Reply

  14. i’m also not a farmer’s market fan for those exact reasons (and we live a 5min walk away).
    Another reason- we honestly can’t afford the cost. Our friends shop at the farmer’s market and spend at least 200$ more a month than we do. it’s just not in our budget. We tried a CSA, but it also wasn’t a good solution because i’m so ridiculously fussy, especially when it comes to greens (and the fact that the CSA was a FAKE- seriously, I found a sticker on an eggplant from a local health food store. they were buying their produce from the store and reselling it).

    Reply

    • Hi EcoYogini,

      A fraudulent CSA! Terrible. I haven’t gone the CSA route either because I can be bad about wasting food if I just don’t feel like eating it — generally it works better for me to shop for just what I need for a couple meals, and then go out again later in the week for the next couple. Lately I’ve been compromising by getting strawberries at a local farmstand. They cost more, but they taste a lot better, and it only adds $5 to my weekly budget instead of $20!

      Reply

  15. [...] these questions and make more decisions based on detailed knowledge, but again, there’s that whole farmers-market-phobia thing. Damn you, [...]

    Reply

  16. [...] to these questions and make more decisions based on detailed knowledge, but again, there’s that whole farmers-market-phobia thing. Damn you, [...]

    Reply

  17. Posted by railroad on 07/29/2012 at 14:54

    THANK YOU! I live in Austin, and someone is finally saying what I’ve been thinking for years. People don’t want to hear these things because it’s not cool and goes against the trendy grain. I mean, how dare we criticize a farmer’s market….?! God forbid you have any criticisms against such a holy institution, or you must be a ‘whiner’…!
    I used to go to a tiny 1-stand FM right up the street that had everything I needed… parked, said hello, bought some stuff & split. Took just a few minutes. But they retired & the only ones now are big ones…. (and they’re not closeby.. I am a big fan of trying to stay off the roads & doing as much as possible close to home.) …and, on hot pavement with NO SHADE.. (ugh)… it’s brutal and NOISY as hell. Do we really HAVE to have ‘live music’ everywhere…?? All the time…??? Sorry but I don’t need to be entertained everywhere I go. When food shopping, you actually need to concentrate. Everything doesn’t have to be a big festival atmosphere and uber-kid-friendly, all the time. (how about adult-friendly..?? Nothing personal against kids but it gets old.) The carnival atmosphere makes it into some kind of novelty thing. And yes the crowds suck. It’s overwhelming and stressful… an assault on the senses. And I avoid stress like the plague. It’s like a baby stroller and dog leash obstacle course. And standing in line every single time you get something from a table.. pulling out your $$ over & over again… sorry but this is a pain. I also agree with having to talk to so many people. For some folks (like me) it’s very draining and you have to practically shout to hear over all the noise. And I don’t need to come home sweaty and exhausted after buying groceries. Sorry but I would rather go to a local store, whiz through at my own fast pace, fill up my basket with lots of produce.. (I will always buy local when given the chance, IF it’s good..) get everything I need at once, stay cool, not get sunburned, have peace & quiet, not be assaulted with noise and chaos… stand in line & check out ONCE and be outta there. I love how localvores (not that I have anything against them and consider myself one I suppose).. go on & on about not wanting the animals to live in ‘crowded, hot, and stressful conditions’… but hey, it’s OK if you put the customers in those conditions….! Ha. If the local markets would actually treat the people humanely, i.e., be in places with SHADE, not play stupid loud music the whole time, get rid of all the face-painting & moon-bouncers and crap, give people a little more room, cover it with an awning (lots of FM’s in other cities do this..!! DUH!) and maybe even somehow have a system where you could check out ONCE and be done with it…. (not sure how this could work, but you never know..) maybe, maybe I would go back. I’m sure many of the farmers would agree & would like to see these changes too! To top it all off, most of them (including the one near my neighborhood) are always on Saturdays and they end at 1. Who wants to get up early on a Saturday..?? What about people who work at night..? I don’t get it. Would it kill them to have some hours in the afternoon or evening, once in a while…? Again, other cities do this. I recently went to a nice smaller market in another city… it was under a wooden roof built just for the market, and it was awesome. Small, simple & quiet. Just great produce & bread, etc.. no novelties. In the meantime, I too like the idea of FM’s in theory & have utmost respect for farmers (especially organic, because I don’t know how they manage…) but it just ain’t worth it anymore. At least not in this town.
    Thanks Jennifer, for daring to speak your mind on this issue! I hope the folks who run the markets are listening.

    Reply

    • Hi Railroad,

      Glad the post struck a chord with you. I think there’s a tendency to deify farmers’ markets when the truth is that they’re not really the right solution for some people. I think adding Austin heat to the farmers’ markets here would make me stay away for good! I don’t need to be entertained while food shopping, but what I really mind are the activists trying to get me to sign something. I probably agree with what they want me to sign, but I hate being approached in that way when I’m already stressed and grumpy.

      Reply

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