Hands Off the Tomatoes! And Other Market Mishaps to Avoid

August 12, 2016

Does this description in the Washington Post sound like people you know?

Call them the tomato touchers. They’re the people who go to the farmers market and handle every plump orb, squeezing and groping, feeling them carefully for firmness and flaws before deciding which one will make it into their next Caprese salad.

Excessive tomato-squeezing can bruise the thin-skinned fruits for the rest of us: Leigh Hauter, who owns Bull Run Mountain Farm in Virginia, told the Post that he used to lose 25% of his tomatoes to damage when CSA customers picked them out themselves.

Still, it's hard for even the most-informed shopper to resist. (Just try buying the first tomato you lay a hand on. I admit to having handled, and pushed aside, plenty a tomato over the years. I'd be out of line in Italy, where it's improper etiquette to touch any of the fruit.)

Photo by James Ransom

The most vexing part is that squeezing an heirloom tomato isn't even the best test of ripeness, Paul Mock of Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm in West Virginia told the Post: A strong aroma or a dark color on the bottom of the tomato are the truer indicators.

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In addition to needless-but-irresistible tomato-squeezing, what are the other most egregious farmers market (or grocery store) offenses?

Well, there's this...

...and a few other—less completely terrible!—faux pas:

  • Corn exposing (that is, disturbing the corn for those who want to cook it husk on and hastening its deterioration; there's a better way to choose without peeking)
  • Fava bean peeling
  • Sample hogging (that is, camping out in front of the samples—even worse if you do not buy anything)
  • Sample... saliva swapping (that is, using your fingers when toothpicks are provided—even worse if you go in for seconds)
  • Sample stealing
  • Price scoffing in a perceptible way (besides, farmers markets aren't expensive as we think they are, anyway)
  • Obtrusive photo-taking (there's a better way for that, too!)
  • During peak hours, aisle or entryway blocking (by walking incredibly slowly on an aimless, ambling path—even worse if you have a dog that's wandering—or by abandoning your bike/stroller/shopping cart at a central entry-point or intersection)

And as for what we should all strive to do?

What are your farmers market (or grocery store) pet peeves? Tell us what we missed—or what we got wrong—in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • J
  • Betsey
  • connie m
    connie m
  • I use a Replicator!
    I use a Replicator!
  • ChefJune
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


J July 15, 2023
I’m totally addicted to my beloved (and fabled) North Country Farmers’ Market. If I didn’t show up at 9:00 a.m. on any given Saturday, two of my favorite farmers would almost certainly huddle together and call 911 for a welfare check. Nevertheless, tell me if I’m wrong about this, but I love love love tomatoes and I LOOK at every one. I never squeeze. I just want to see the stem end to gauge the yield, especially on heirlooms. I wouldn’t have to do this if the farmers displayed them stem side up. I do have some redeeming qualities: whether in the grocery store or at the FM, if I cause produce to fall on the floor or ground, I pick it up and I buy it: I would never put it back. I’m just gagging about the stories of toddlers licking fruit! And, of course, tearing off the top of sweet corn is unacceptable. I’m not keen about the squeezing the top idea: I find that simply feeling the top of the cob tells me whether it’s fully developed. And if I find a worm on the top part of the cob when I get home? I hate worms, but I give thanks for organic produce!
Betsey August 15, 2016
My farmers market doesn't allow dogs. I wish they would also ban bikes. And strollers, if I get my fondest wish.
connie M. August 14, 2016
I meant licking!
connie M. August 14, 2016
My husband never understood why I was such a stickler about washing fruits and vegs until I told him about a recent experience in the Wal-Mart produce section. A green pepper was on my list. I picked one up, thinking maybe I should get two. I turned around to see a kid (who knows whereabouts of mother) picking up pepper after pepper and liking the entire outside and putting it back. While I am not fond of dogs at farmer's markets, unsupervised children are worse. I've seen them pick up and eat whatever they want (unpaid for) and have food fights without even recognizing how hard these farmers work to bring fresh food to others. Don't even get me started on people blocking aisles while yacking on the phone about the new toenail polish color. Get out of my way!
I U. August 14, 2016
Once saw a dog take a dump the size of a cucumber right next to a fruit stand. Owner just walked away.
ChefJune August 14, 2016
At the Greenmarket (in Union Square, anyway) I've found that you can smell the ripeness of much of the fruit - peaches, melons, strawberries, pears, tomatoes, especially. Reason? They're picked riper than the product that is on sale in even the most exclusive supermarkets because it's (wait for it...) LOCAL! I also dislike when people ick through a pile of fruit or vegetables looking for something particular and just toss the others aside.
You can tell the ripeness of corn without pulling back the husk. If the ear is heavy for its size, it's usually ready to eat.
And by the way, don't handle the produce in French markets, either!
Kate K. August 13, 2016
Peaches and Necatarines suffer exactly the same squeezing habits, at grocery stores as well as farmers markets. The other week I watched ten or eleven absolutely perfect fruits succumb to one woman's systematic squeezes between thumb and forefinger before she literally threw her bag atop the pile and walked off without buying any. The would have been dead ripe in two days if they'd been left on the counter stems down, but instead were doomed to develop moldy, bruised spots. The nerve!
Nikita August 13, 2016
Not sure which is worse: clueless, aimless and/or self-absorbed shoppers trailing those giant plastic wagons that get in everyone's way; or the pushy people who barge in front of you, shove you aside, and step on your toes. I really can't go to the market unless it's first thing in the morning (6-7 a.m.) or early afternoon when crowds have dispersed and farmers are packing up (which is also a good time to haggle and get good deals on whatever didn't sell).
irina August 13, 2016
People bring their dogs to Union Square Farmer's Market all the time.
I'm bothered more by the Mommies that hog the space! Leave carriage blocking aisles, have toddler toddling around in your way etc. Not cute!
Ceeze August 13, 2016
Not everyone likes or is comfortable around dogs and it can be considered unhygenic to have them around food on sale for public consumption.
Smaug August 12, 2016
If you find tomatoes that smell like tomatoes at your market, treasure the seller. The only good way to tell if corn is ripe with the husk on is by the burst test- if a kernel near the top will burst from moderate pressure, it's ripe, but one doesn't feel good about doing it, but there it is- you can usually keep it to one kernel, and if it bursts, DO buy it. Same with avocados- you can tell some from the color, but you really need to test for give at the big end. Until such time as sellers can be trusted to bring ripe produce to market (as I'm told they can in some parts of the world), a certain amount of produce mangling is going to happen.
Panfusine August 12, 2016
my pet peeve in this area HAS to be folks who snap off the tips of Okra while picking them. Happens all the time in Indian Grocery stores.
Alexis A. August 12, 2016
people who bring pets in general to the farmer's market. Our public market doesn't allow pets at all; I wish the same was true for the farmer's markets. Yes, you may want to show off how cute and "well behaved" your dog is, but its not the place for them. period.
lauren S. August 12, 2016
Negative N. August 17, 2016
Not everyone thinks your little snowflake is as precious as you do.