It occurred to me when her blue eyes smiled at me. Scratch that, they twinkled! She did not stop to talk but just smiled as she passed by.
Visiting a farmers’ market is healthy. Not just because of the food, but because of the interpersonal connection. Something magical happens when you make eye contact with others. Suddenly you are one. Or not. Some folks like to talk, some do not.
For some reason, I dislike the phrase, “How are you?” It feels contrived. I find myself telling passersby “Let me know if I can answer any questions.” And that seems to be a neutral invitation for conversation that doesn't immediately obligate one for extensive personal reveal.
Then, the connection either grows or is broken. It is unlike reading a Facebook post or receiving an email. It is a two-way interaction that rests light responsibility on both pairs of shoulders. I've learned it is okay to always be myself – foot-in-the-mouth and all – regardless. I can’t help but be myself. Besides, I hear everyone else is already taken.
Interestingly, repeat customers know what they want and typically don’t read your signs anymore after about the second visit. This is, again, an opportunity for conversation. If an individual chooses just one or two items, I always say, “What else?” instead of “Is that all?” – and open ended question is better than a closed-end question and the reason for this is not to make another sale, but to expound upon an opportunity to learn about your customer. “ I've got lettuce growing at home,” they might say to which I always smile and encourage anyone that attempts to grow their own food. It seems contradictory but really, it’s to everyone’s benefit to grow one’s own food, and creates a ripple effect that cultivates all of our roots – we all have this in common: the necessity to eat. Not one of us is immune to that need.
One of the greatest things about the interaction of the farmers’ and their customers is the invaluable feedback that returns from week to week. “Your lettuce keeps so well, I still have some left!” This is valuable to us, and to consumers, and we growers will remember this as our experience grows. Feedback, negative or positive, is essential to good customer service. I've come to offer the vulnerability of telling the truth – the heat makes lettuce bitter, and that if they experience anything that makes them unhappy, to come back and tell me, and I will replace it. So far, everyone that has come back has told me that they have loved the fresh food. This makes me happy.
What also makes me happy is that people seem to smile more at the market. There must be something in the air. Maybe it’s the fresh morning breeze.
Getting to know your fellow vendors is important, too. Most often, if they don’t smile – smile at them first. It’s free and they can’t help but smile back – it would make them look like a jerk if they didn't yes? It can be like an awkward dance, at first, especially if you and another vendor are producing like items. The produce world can be brutal. Dealing with perishable crops and being at the mercy of the weather and persistent pests can cause stress. Stress can help us become better farmers and better customer service providers. Competition, on a healthy level, is usually a good thing. Sometimes, when a farmers wears too much of a frown, especially when he or she looks my way, it might be a sign that they are having a bad day. Or, it could mean that they’re just jealous. Wait, that’s what I just said! Or, it means that it has nothing to do with me and that comparison is the thief of all joy. Be like a duck and let it roll off. Better yet, extend your hand and smile in grace and mercy and open that door to conversation. You might be surprised.
On another note, kids (of ALL ages) like to touch. It’s always good if you can have something out front for people to squeeze, pinch, smell and feel. I learned this from a gentleman who genuinely loves to grow plants and is a very talented grower and is very much a people person. The senses are very much a part of the farmers’ market experience. Put a bouquet of herbs out there – lemon balm is always nice to touch and smell. Interactivity is the basis for our relationships. It starts with the twinkle in the eyes which starts with the smile.
See you at the market!