Markets are thriving in South Africa. The positive spinoffs of this are that more small producers are getting a piece of the pie and people are becoming more connected to their food and community. What is the best way to choose the right market for you and how do you make the most out of your chosen market? Each market has its own personality, vibe and specialities. The next 10 points hope to improve your market experience.
1) Choose which market works best for you. Different people have very different needs. For want of a better idea, I am going to compare markets to restaurants. There are sushi restaurants, steakhouses, vegetarian and Indian restaurants and they all have different specialities and focuses. I definitely would not go to my favourite sushi spot and hope to get a good piece of fillet. Markets are the same. Some focus on craft beers and ready food, others on live music and location, and some focus on fresh produce shopping. If you are serious about buying fresh produce at the market, you may not want to be surrounded by beer swilling happy chappies and the happy chappies may not want your serious ‘organic’ vibes either. Whilst some markets provide a bit of everything, find the market that most fulfils your needs and make the most of it.
2) If you are interested in buying fresh produce, arrive early but not too early. The early bird catches the worm does not work as well as the second mouse gets the cheese when it comes to markets! Traders have a lot to unpack and get sorted on their stands before they are ready to trade. They can easily become harassed if they are unpacking and people are buying before the market has even opened. As a market owner, it also means that the trader is less likely to be able to create an effective and eye catching display if they are under pressure.
3) Ask questions about the food you are buying. A lot of questions. Get to know the trader; ask where the produce comes from and how it is made; ask about farming methods, preservatives etc. Ask the trader about the best way to prepare the item you are buying – they generally have some great tips. This not only connects you with your food but also lets the trader know that you are serious about their food and interested in where it comes from.
4) Be patient. Markets are not supermarkets. They do not want to become like supermarkets. You may wait slightly longer in the queue to get your veggies weighed because the stall owner is chatting to the person in front of you about how their artichokes turned out last week, but that is part of the joy of shopping at a market.
5) Give feedback! Especially to the market owner. It is very difficult to know what people think and feel unless they share it. Make it constructive and don’t rant but please give feedback. We love it!
6) Be tolerant of different people and different desires. We like the fact that many people feel like the market is an extension of their home but the downside of this is that if we try to move the couch around they may freak out. Market owners need to try different things, they have many different types of people to please and they need to reinvent themselves every now and then as every good business does. We get it wrong sometimes. Embrace change and give different things a chance. You can still give the feedback if you don’t like it.
7) We know you love your dog but that doesn’t mean everybody loves your dog. Markets have their own policies on whether or not they allow dogs. Please be considerate and keep your dog on a leash. Don’t let him mistake the fake grass for a great place to take a dump and if he’s a barker…well then rather leave him at home. We have even had dog lovers bringing their stinky dog beds along with them to lay out next to the table for the old boy to lie on!
8) Bring your own bags, cooler boxes and anything else that will make your shopping trip more pleasant. Make a point of asking traders not to put their products in a bag for you as you have brought your own. Thankfully markets are trolley free zones which saves your ankles from those bad drivers but it can make it harder to shop. A business idea for any keen entrepreneurs – bring back those basket trolleys that old ladies pull behind them along the high streets.
9) Don’t get stuck in a rut. We are always amazed when someone who has been coming to the market for years makes the discovery that the market sells butter/yoghurt etc. Expand your range, try new things; you never know what little gems you may be missing out on.
10) Have fun! Take your time, choose your food carefully, bring the kids, aunties and grannies with you and enjoy yourself. Our favourite people are the ones who can’t stop themselves, cabbage in hand, from doing a little bop down the isles to the music. Markets truly do combine the best of all worlds. Good food, great craft beers, weekly shopping, kids entertainment and community.