Oh, she sees you out there, struggling to figure out what you're going to do with a cardoon, looking all lost and confused because you got there after the best corn was gone, squeezing the peaches when you think no one is watching.
Pauline Wood, the manager of the Matthews Community Farmer's Market, is watching, usually with her trademark good humor. In one of her recent newsletters, Wood shared her own list of tips for shopping at farmer's markets. I'm passing them along (with a few extra tips of my own):
The market is busiest between 8 and 10 a.m. That's definitely true at Matthews, where the market bell rings at 7:15 a.m. Later in the morning, you may find some stands with less to sell. "Please understand that farmers come to market planning to sell out, hoping not to bring much with them." (Not all markets are for early risers, though, so check their web site before you go. I have turned up bright and early at markets in some cities only to find there's no one there but me and the truck drivers.)
Come with a flexible shopping list. "Plan your menus once you get to the market and see what farmers have brought that day." (That's the joy of shopping at a market -- finding what's freshest and tastiest that day. Pretend you're French for the morning.)
Carry small bills. Thanks to those little gadgets that fit web-phones and tablets, some sellers can take cards. But those are mostly the folks who carry high-dollar food, like meat. (Don't expect a friendly smile if you drop a $20 bill on someone for two-for-a-dollar cucumbers. It doesn't just slow down the transactions, it also might keep them from making the next sale if they can't make change.)
Chat with farmers. Ask about how the produce is grown and how to cook it. Buy something you haven't tried before. If you don't know how to cook something, there's usually someone around to offer advice.
Don't squeeze the tomatoes - or any other produce. If you have questions about ripeness, ask the farmer. Squeezing produce you're not going to buy just leaves bruised food that no one else will buy, either.
Bring sturdy bags and baskets. There's only so many plastic bags you can hang from your arm. (I have the tennis elbow to prove it.)
Plan to go straight home. Fresh produce, plants or flowers shouldn't be left in a car, especially this time of year. If you have to stop on the way, make sure you bring a cooler and some freezer packs.
Take your children. This is how they learn where food comes from and how it looks when it comes out the field. (And Purvis' addendum: Don't take your dog, no matter how well-behaved. I love my dog as much as you love yours, but she has no business licking and sniffing at a farmer's market. It also puts the market managers in the uncomfortable position of asking a customer to leave.)
The Matthews Community Farmers Market, at North Trade Street in downtown Matthews, is open from 7:15 qa.m. to noon Saturdays through Nov. 18,. and 6:30-8:30 p.m. through July 24. If you want a good list of what their sellers are bringing every week, sign up for Pauline's newsletter or get details at www.matthewsfarmersmarket.com.