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The Top 9 Things <i>Not</i> to do at a Farmers' Market

Since it's getting to be peak Farmers' Market season, I talked to a couple of farmers who have been at the various Greenmarkets in New York City for years. As you can imagine, they've seen it all.
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2012-07-10-AccidentalLocavoreTomatoCloseUp.JPGBecause the Accidental Locavore was on vacation last week, and since it's getting to be peak Farmers' Market season, I thought it was a good time to re-run my farmers' favorite posting.

During the taping of a new cooking show, the Accidental Locavore was talking to a couple of farmers who have been at the various Greenmarkets in New York City for years. As you can imagine, they've witnessed a lot -- from drunks, dogs and kids all run amuck, to women with cigarettes demanding to know if the produce is organic, they've seen it all. Some of their stories may surprise you and if you recognize yourself...

1. For example, the Locavore never realized that if you pick up a tomato to see how ripe it is, put it down, someone else picks it up, etc., etc., by the end of the day it's essentially a tomato water balloon. Not good.

2. Usually farmers are happy to let you taste berries. However, if you taste a berry and like it, take the box you picked the berry from. Don't get a new box and don't add more berries to the box you have.

3. The Locavore's pet peeve at any market: shucking corn. It makes a huge mess and nothing else. If you take it home shucked, it loses moisture and flavor (and you've got nothing to grill it in, one of the best and easiest ways to cook corn). The way to see if an ear of corn is going to be good is to look at it. It should look fresh and moist, not dried out. If you are a corn shucker, try picking one or two ears that look good to you, take them home un-shucked and see how they compare to the ones you made a mess with. My history shows a 98 percent success rate just going for the good-looking ones.

4. One of the charms of any farmers' market is the pace. Give yourself time to wander through and see what's available. Talk with the farmers -- they welcome your appreciation of their hard work. In return, they will be happy to help you pick out the best stuff, find something that may not have been put out yet, take special orders, or save you something if you can't get there early, and often give you tips on how to prepare it.

5. Remember, all this beautiful food is really labor intensive. It's planted, weeded and harvested, primarily by hand. Trust me, these guys work hard, harder than you or I. If prices seem higher than at a big supermarket, be thankful you have access to the remarkable taste that only comes from something being picked that morning, at the peak of flavor. Not to mention the variety. Even at the best stores, you never see twenty different kinds of eggplants or forty varieties of tomatoes.

6. Even if you are in a rush, hand them the money. If you're in such a hurry that you feel the need to leave the money on the counter, leave it right in front of them so they don't have to reach across to get it (or worse, someone else picks it up). And if you're in that much of a hurry, chill (and stop shucking that corn).

7. Would you leave an empty coffee cup or other garbage on the counter at Tiffany? Then why do you think you can do it at a Greenmarket? Because it's outside? All vendors have trash cans, usually behind the counter. Just ask nicely and they'll toss your trash.
8. If you want cheap prices, to be able to run in and out, grab a handful of plastic bags and toss money on a counter, go to a supermarket (and use the self service line), but then don't complain that the veggies don't taste good. When you go to a farmers market, you should be looking for a more personal experience, a slower pace and interaction with the people who spend their lives bringing us great food to eat.

9. And if you want to see if a tomato can actually be a water balloon, just do the one thing that's universally despised by farmers everywhere... shake your bag in their face...

Don't say you weren't warned! Did I miss anything?

This post originally appeared on The Accidental Locavore.

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