Bargaining at the Farmer’s Market

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on August 5, 2010

So I chatting with a friend recently, and she asked…”How do you get these great prices at the farmer’s market? Do you bargain with them or something?”

I replied, “No. I just get lucky, I guess!”

But the convo got me thinking about bargaining, and how widely unacceptable it has become in our culture.  In the Dominican Republic, it was commonplace to bargain.  I felt uncomfortable doing it when I was first there, but after a few years and some practice, I found it less intimidating.

I digress.

I decided to ask Tim, one of the farmers at my local market, what his thoughts were on bargaining. I LOVE his answer…and I think you will to!

Thoughts? Opinions on bargaining? Do share!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Goobs August 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

I think the only time you should bargain this side of the border would be when there’s a reason, and not because you want a better price. For example: the item is damaged, shows wear, or in the case of produce, it’s on it’s last day or two. We just aren’t a bargaining culture and I find it rude. These people worked hard and have named their price. Take it or leave it and try to find someone else with prices you’re willing to pay.

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Rhonda Hall August 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

I feel that if you are buying a large quanity, (like 12 dozen ears of corn for the freezer ) it would be acceptable to ask for a discount…but just one dozen, no…if they do that for one it should be for all… or at end of day and they have several different items left, ask if they will make a deal if you take it all…….
Thankfully, I have an uncle who farms and my freezer is full of Corn, green beans, and horticultural beans::: all FREEE!!! Thanks Uncle!

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Sarah (Frontier Kitchen) August 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

I’m not a bargainer. Especially when it comes to buying directly from the farmer because I know that farmers aren’t wealthy by any means. Also, knowing my money is going directly to their pocket makes me happy to pay the same price (or close to it) for the produce I would normally buy from the grocery store.

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Elaine August 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

I have to agree with goobs. I do frequent the seconds table at my local farm stand. There is nothing wrong with the produce it just looks a little funny. Like a crooked zucchini. It slices and cooks just the same way and the baskets are usually on a dollar or 2.

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Abbygail August 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

Rude? Seriously? If it is a good price, about the same or a little bit more than in the store, I will pay it. But if I feel like it is overpriced, I will most defintely ask for a lower price. The same goes for garage sales, flea markets, the auto mechanic. People today are just too afraid to be told no, so that’s why bargaining has gone by the wayside. And also because too few people shop farmer’s markets, etc. At Walmart there is no one to bargain with.

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Paula August 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

As a farmer’s wife who also has a booth at the farmer’s market, I get rather upset when people try to bargain. We work very hard to grow the things we do. My husband is in the barn 7 days a week/365 days a year, then crops and grows market gardens as well. We put a fair price on our products. Most consumers have no idea of the input costs. Some people see farm markets as ‘overpriced’ where in reality the grocery stores are severely UNDER-PRICED. We refuse to sell our produce to the grocery store because the expect to buy it for less than the cost of production! I can’t feed my own family with prices like that, and I can’t afford to subsidize other families.

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Carey August 5, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I’m usually afraid to bargain (unless it’s craigslist or something similar) but my husband never is and he usually gets a better price. Last week he got a good sized watermelon for $2 instead of the $3 that the farmer wanted. I think that you can always ask if someone would be willing to take a lower price and see what they say, especially if you think the item is overpriced like Abbygail said. I mean the farmer would probably rather sell it to you than to a grocery store that isn’t going to give them near as good of a price as you are.

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Jen August 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I say definitely bargain. What is the worst that can happen? You don’t get a better price. You never know until you ask. My husband and I bargain when purchasing large items like appliances, recreation equipment and vehicles, basically anything involving several hundred dollars or more. Having cash and being willing to walk away is key. Just think about a yard sale or flea market, those prices are almost always flexible. I don’t see anything wrong with asking. In our culture, the word “no” has such a negative connotation I think people are afraid to ask for fear of hearing no.

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Shanna August 5, 2010 at 2:53 pm

When I’m running a garage sale, I HATE people who try to bargain. I have set my prices for a reason and you asking for a discount is rude and disrespectful to me and the time I spent pricing, especially when I know you are just going to turn around a resell it for a higher price than I’m asking. It is not part of our culture and I get offended. I will often OFFER a discount or say “make me an offer”, but, please, don’t ask me for one.

In the case of a farmer’s market, I agree if it is flawed in some way, it is okay to ask or offer another price, but if there’s nothing wrong with it- just Support your local farmers and pay what they ask. They have put a lot of thought, time, and calculation into their product and pricing.

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Cheryl August 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Bargaining is not rude. What IS rude is when the person asks & is told no & continues to try & bargain or proceedes to get rude & nasty. I agree in the fact that it doesn’t hurt to ask. I routinely bargain at yard sales, flea markets & I’m saving cash for some appliances to try & bargain
What I don’t like is there are many, many, many farmers markets in our area (Columbus, OH) & the prices vary depending on the location of the market even though it’s the same farmers & I’m talking some places it’s double than what they charge at another market.
Maybe it’s me but I think $1 for 1 green pepper, $2 for a large (not humongous) zucchini, $7 for a pint of blackberries is too much…..

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familyofthree August 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm

@Cheryl, Holy cow, Cheryl, you need to find a different farmer’s market! Those prices are higher than our grocery stores!

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Cheryl August 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm

@familyofthree,

yeah, tell me about it. We moved over to this side of town recently & everything is higher. This is the local farmer’s market that is on the way home from DH’s work. I need to scout out others in the area….I don’t feel like driving 18miles to go back to where we use to live.

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The Working Home Keeper August 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I don’t ask for bargains at our farmer’s market. But I have found that just by being a regular customer, some farmers will automatically give me a discount and even free items. I love my farmers!

Mary Ellen

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Jenny August 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I usually don’t barging for my produce (although I love to bargaining at garage sales!) But I do think it is ok if you have a reason for thinking an item is overpriced. As long as you are polite when you ask and take no for an answer the first time then I see no real harm. I know that there is a minimum the farmer must sell the item for to make a profit, but they also need to sell the item to someone or it will just go bad sitting in the boxes. They may even prefer to sell it to you at a lower price rather than have you go buy it from someone else for less money! So I think at the farmers market it is up to the consumer to be polite and up to the farmer to decide if they want to bargain.

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Noelle August 5, 2010 at 6:36 pm

We only bargain when we are buying a lot. Last week we were at a market while we were on vacation. There were a few baskets of peaches left all marked $4, and we asked how much for all 6. We got them for $15… an awesome price and the farmer didn’t have as much to pack up to take home. I know the farmer’s work hard and are super underpaid so we will only ask “what will you charge me for a certain amount” if it’s a significant amount. And we’ve found a lot of farmers will give us a good price on a box of fruit or a bushel of produce.

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Sharon August 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm

We don’t usually bargain at the Farmer’s Market, probably for the same reason most of you have already listed, mainly because we appreciate the effort the put in to growing and harvesting the fruit and veggies and then stand out in the heat or rain for hours.

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familyofthree August 5, 2010 at 7:52 pm

How funny, I was just at our Farmer’s Market today and thought of this. :) I LOVE bargaining at garage sales and Craigslist, but I really wouldn’t at a farmer’s market. The reason being — I guess I just think the people who are there work so hard to grow and/or prepare their items, load it all up, lug it downtown, and sit in the hot sun for 3.5 hrs each week… I feel like a big old Scrooge asking if I can have a cucumber for 25c rather than 35c. ;)

I agree that the only exceptions I would be if something’s damaged or a little on the small side (if no discount was already given) or if I was buying a large quantity. I’m hoping to do that with sweet corn this year to freeze a bunch.

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Lanna August 6, 2010 at 3:17 am

I think it doesn’t hurt to ask.
In situations where bargaining actually may make sense.
Like Fred Meyer probably isn’t going to give you a bulk discount.
But my tomato lady has given me free tomatoes over the years when I’ve been having a rough day or more guessed at totals with plant starts, and my orchard guy cuts me a screamin’ deal on apple seconds (I asked him about thirds, which they feed to the deer because I can make cider out of about anything, and he just gave me a better deal on seconds). I do however have this perpetual tendency to ask about seconds. Especially for things I’m canning, but even in general. I have a knife, I can cut out a cracked shoulder on an apple/peach, I can cut out the occasional worm hole, etc. They taste exactly the same, just might look a little different. Oh, or if my orchard guy has a ton of peaches or apricots (*highly* perishable) at 15 minutes before the close of market he can sometimes lower the price just so he doesn’t have to take ‘em back home. Of course my vendor relationships have been cultivated over the last few years, and I’m not above gifting them a jar of my grandma’s secret recipe relish or some huckleberry jam. ;)

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Lanna August 6, 2010 at 3:18 am

(Oh, I should’ve added, I bought 300lbs of apples at a time over the course of several weeks last year… I’m not exactly a lightweight in that regard)

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Anastasia August 6, 2010 at 6:58 am

Wow…the different answers range from people being offended and others thinking it happens all the time. I have to agree with the ladies who run the middle on this issue.

If you are going to buy a lot of anything- you should TRY to bargain.
Ask politely what they are willing to take for a certain amount.
If they refuse, politley pay or walk away.

It sounds so simple, but I live in an area where there are a whole lot of people who are from other countries where it is EXPECTED to bargain- even at garage sales. One time, we had named this ridiculously low price for an item and the lady tried to talk us down. I looked at her and said, “Buy it at that price- or not at all.” She bought it, but she had to try.

I am truly jealous of all you ladies with Farmer’s Markets. All of the one’s that were so prevalent down here have been wiped out or bought out. Now all we have is the flea market and they don’t usually bargain, but the deals are good- so I don’t complain!

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Dorothy August 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

I absolutely NEVER bargain at a farmers market or at the Amish produce stands that dot the area where we vacation. These people work hard for their money and I will pay more $ simply because it is local grown and in the case of the Amish stands, all organic. I would much rather pay a premium to know that my $ is going to the “little guy” rather than the grocery store.
That said, the Amish stands do mark down their baked goods in the early afternoon, and I think I’m just a lucky girl when I can score a homemade fruit pie with a scratch crust for $5 just because it’s 3PM. :)

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becky August 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I end up getting good deals on produce at the end of the market. I don’t get up early enough, and buying produce at farmers markets is kind of a recreational novelty so I just end up getting what looks good that day. Usually our farmers don’t want to pack up much, so they’ll give me a great price (2 for one) just to get it off their hands. I’m too chicken to bargain, but sometimes, I’ll say something if I think there’s something I don’t think they’ll sell because their price is too high. (Our honey lady repeatedly tries to sell cut herbs a dollar a stem…seriously??? 12 basil leaves for a dollar?)

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amy@twobgardening August 7, 2010 at 9:08 am

I agree with him. A lot of people don’t realize the hard work put into farming. The weather, the time to weed the garden, dealing with insects eating your plants. If the farmers are trying to rip you off by over charging, the buyers will know and not buy.
It doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount, but if told “no”, accept it.

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Jared Karnes August 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I keep seeing people talking about garage sales, etc. in this conversation and I just have to say that buying something that someone put labor in to grow is totally different from buying something you’ve paid for previously and are selling. This is a totally different ball game. As for those complaining about pricing, keep in mind that much of the food at the grocery store is subsidized with tax dollars and the prices of those products are purposefully deflated as a result. Those products were raised in huge monocultures, oftentimes utilizing very poor soil management practices, destroying the environment with chemicals, and paying workers virtually nothing for back breaking work so that those products can be made or grown for the least possible amount of money and most return on the dollar.

Your local farmer is likely spending far more money per unit, and exponentially more time per unit, bringing the items you see at the farmers market from seed to your table. Your local farmer is likely doing this whole business much more sustainably, and making virtually nothing doing it. Think about how much random crap everyone buys, how much money is spent daily, and how little most of those objects/items are needed compared to the two things that we need the most in this world – food and water – both should cost more to reflect the reality of how much they are needed and the resources needed to ensure they will both be around in a healthy form for future generations.

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