Farmer’s markets are such happy places. Many take place on the weekends, when nobody seems to be in a rush, everyone is happy to stop and listen to the street music, and shoppers have all the time in the world to chat with the farmers about recipe ideas. It’s hard to believe that anything sketchy is going on around gorgeous baskets of peaches and adorable pet adoptions (a popular addition to many Farmer’s Markets). But some vendors take advantage of the fact that vendors don’t ask questions, and are just so eager to support local farmers, that they wouldn’t dare suspect anything. Here are signs of Farmer’s Market scams.
Fake farmer’s markets
Don’t assume that every Farmer’s Market only accepts true farmers. Some of the vendors are just people who bought crates of fruit at wholesale prices at a farm, and drove them to the market to overcharge. Look for “producers only” markets to guarantee you’re supporting local farmers.
All produce should be seasonal
Have some awareness of what produce is seasonal…and what produce isn’t. If you find a vendor selling strawberries in the dead of winter, there is a good chance he uses a greenhouse, or even purchases them from another location and has them flown in. True Farmer’s Markets only sell seasonal produce.
Don’t assume all produce at the Farmer’s Market is organic. Ask if a vendor is USDA certified. Not all. In fact, in some places, if a farmer makes less than $5,000 a year on his crop, he doesn’t have to go through the certification process.
Some vendors state that their produce is “spray-free.” But they get away with saying that because they send a large pesticide spray over the field, but they don’t individually spray each fruit. Ask each vendor what exactly “spray-free” means to them.
Boasting about being bug-free
It doesn’t matter if there are bugs. Don’t be tricked by a large sign that reads, “Bug-free.” Organic produce should have some bugs, because it wasn’t grown using pesticides. Be glad if you see a worm on some bug because that means you’re getting a pesticide-free product.
Out of place containers
Look out for commercial cartons, or produce in cartons with the wrong labels like bananas in an orange crate. This could be a sign that the vendor purchased his product from someone else at wholesale, and is simply re-selling it at the Farmer’s Market.
Farmer’s Market produce shouldn’t be blemish-free, shiny, or symmetrical. That’s what happens when food isn’t grown organically. Your Farmer’s Market produce should be funny shapes with weird colors and blemishes.
Small batch, selling a lot
If a vendor claims to be selling a small-batch item, but has four tents housing one hundred crates of the stuff, he may not only grow the food in small batches. But you’re still paying the small batch prices.
By the pound, with a basket
Don’t be charmed by produce in cute little baskets. If that vendor charges you by the pound, the weight of that basket could add money to your price tag. Purchase loose produce and put it in your personal bag.
Oddly low prices
If every vendor is selling broccoli at around 75 cents to $1.25 a head, but one vendor is selling it for 25 cents a head, that broccoli may not be organic, or it may not be fresh from that day.
Those tasty little samples may not represent the product. The vendor may have tested his plums, and only cut up ten really sweet ones. But, in reality, it’s possible that only one in every 20 of his plums tastes like that.
You should be able to buy a single piece of fruit. It’s very rare that a vendor requires you to buy ten tomatoes or a pound of cherries. Don’t shop from these vendors—they’re trying to guilt you into buying more than you need.
Overpriced specialty items
Specialty items that aren’t whole foods, like pies, yogurts, and chips are often way overpriced at the Farmer’s Market. Don’t forget that that farmer sells those items to stores, too. Don’t feel like you have to buy the $12 pie there. You can probably find it at Whole Foods next week for $8.
Shade, misters, and music
Many vendors count on you being hot and tired and use tents, misters, and music to entice you. Bring an umbrella, wear comfortable walking shoes, and do what you have to do to give yourself the energy to compare and contrast vendors. Don’t get sucked into the expensive tent because it has misters.
Most bulk buy deals
Bring a calculator and pay attention to bulk buy deals. Sometimes you only save 20 cents by going for the bulk buy deal. And then, you have eight eggplants that will just go bad in your fridge.