Sunday Dinner

Farmers market free-for-all?

August 3, 2013 

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Use market etiquette next time you visit the farmer's market

2011 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

It happens every summer. Children of all sizes and deportment are turned loose at farmers markets like caffeinated poodles in a dog park.

Now, I fully support kids learning about where food comes from and talking to people who produce it. I don’t want them to grow up believing that all edibles come from a Lunchables box.

And I understand that August is near the end of a long, soggy summer. Every zoo animal has been cooed over, museum thundered through and every putt putted. Parents are looking forward to the traditional start of the school year with the same thrill that NASCAR drivers do to the champagne shower in the winner’s circle after going as fast as they can, in the heat, for what seems like forever.

However, that’s no reason to treat farmers markets like amusement parks. A market isn’t Six Tomatoes Over Eggplant, you know. There is market etiquette.

One hot day, I saw a dad mutely stare at his son (who certainly appeared to be old enough to know better) as the boy dug his fingers into a bowl of chopped tomato samples and put them in his mouth. He ignored the vendor-provided sample fork.

I eventually became too disgusted to stay silent, and said, “You need to use the fork and put them in your hand, hon, because other people are going to want to eat those, too.”

Father and son gave me the same blank look, which said: “Geez, lady, we ran out of video games and Mom threw us out of the house. Give us a break.”

And there are the strollers. Put even the mildest mannered moms or dads at the helm of one of those bovine-sized tandem jobs and they take off like teens on lawn tractors, ready to mow down anything in their way. Meanwhile, the youngsters inside are reading the safety instructions from the seat-back pocket so they’ll know what to do in case of a crash landing.

The drivers often have an air of entitlement. I expect to hear one shout, “I’m wheeling around our nation’s future, which I carried in my very own body for nine months. Now get out of my way so I can get a watermelon.”

Wide-load strollers are so effective at cutting a path through crowded farmers markets that a new use for them has developed. One flew by me recently with no child in sight. Grandma had appropriated the stroller as a shopping cart.

Because children learn best at home, adult activity shows where they’re picking up a lack of farmers-market etiquette.

A couple of seasons ago, by my observation about half of the corn vendors at the State Farmers Market had stopped allowing people to pull their own ears from the backs of overflowing trucks. Now, all of the vendors bag the corn themselves.

One seller told me that she had to stop allowing shoppers to fill their own bags because many would pull down the shucks and toss the ears back into the truck, in search of whatever met their personal vision of the ideal ear of corn. The result was a mess dotted with drying-out, half-shucked corn.

(Tip of the day: Fresh corn stays moist longer if you don’t remove the shucks until you’re ready to cook it. If you’re worried about mess in your kitchen, tell bored children to shuck it outside.)

This summer, I noticed that many farmers were offering pre-measured okra in small cartons instead of the usual serve-yourself bins. There’s a reason for that, too, vendors say: Picky people were pinching off the ends of the pods and throwing back those found wanting in some way. Suspicious person that I am, I wanted to know what was in the bottoms of the cartons, and the vendors gladly poured them out for my inspection - it was all beautiful.

In August, I guess vegetables make us all a little crazy.

Freelance writer and cookbook author Debbie Moose is a former food editor at The News & Observer. Reach her at debbie@debbiemoose.com or read her blog, Moose Munchies, at http://debbiemoose.com/blog/

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