In my summer intern housing, I live within walking distance of an awesome farmer’s market with lots of local products and amazing produce. Since I started going to the market weekly, I’ve learned a lot about navigating farmer’s markets with low vision, including how to identify items, balancing bags while holding my blindness cane, and using assistive technology. Here are my tips for going to a farmer’s market with low vision. These tips were written with outdoor markets in mind, but can also work for indoor markets.
Look at a map online before going
One of the things that helped me a lot before going to the farmer’s market for the first time was looking at a map of the market online. I was able to figure out common landmarks for the area such as large structures and statues, as well as learn how booths were set up. Plus, it was helpful to know where I could find market staff if I needed assistance finding something.
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If possible, use a blindness cane that can be stepped on without damage
Whenever I go to the farmer’s market, I bring my large ball-tip blindness cane, because I find it’s easier to use when navigating uneven terrain and it doesn’t get stuck. Plus, people can accidentally step on it or kick it without it causing any damage to the cane- something that is very common when I am in large crowds with children and pets running around.
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Check out vendors on social media
Most of the vendors at the farmer’s market have large print signs or friendly staff that can help with selecting products, though I also like to check out vendor pages on social media so that I can read a digital list of products or see what the most exciting products are for the day. Social media pages also often include descriptions of products, which is great for learning about unfamiliar foods or specialty ingredients.
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Use apps such as Google Lens or Seeing AI to identify items
I use Google Lens all the time for identifying plants and other items when I am at different places, and especially at the farmer’s market. I can point my Android phone’s camera at a food item and have my phone tell me what it is using the image recognition tool, which is super helpful when trying to figure out if I am holding a cucumber or zucchini. I’ve also used Seeing AI on iOS to identify different fruits and vegetables once I was back in my intern housing.
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Bring a backpack or bag with a crossbody strap
One of the smartest things I ever brought to the farmer’s market was my empty backpack, because I could easily put items in different compartments and still remain hands-free so I could use my blindness cane. When I went to the market with my friends, they brought a duffel bag with a crossbody strap that they could use hands-free, which worked equally as well.
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Have a way to easily identify cash
Some of the farmer’s markets I have been to are cash-only, so I would go to the ATM or get cash back at the grocery store before heading to the market. Since I have trouble identifying currency with my vision impairment, I use the bill folding method or the iBill currency reader I got for free from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Whenever possible though, I use my credit card for buying things at the farmer’s market as it is easier than paying with cash.
Some markets allow people that use EBT SNAP benefits to purchase items from the farmer’s market. At my local market, this can be done by going to the main desk of the farmer’s market and getting a special card or coins to use with vendors, though every market is different.
Make sure items won’t spill or get squished in transport
Remember how I mentioned bringing my backpack earlier? Well, one day I wasn’t paying attention to how I was packing items and managed to empty an entire bag of cherries into my backpack. By some miracle, they were not squished, but I was finding cherries in random places in my backpack for several days afterwards. Now, I make sure that everything is stored upright and that fragile items aren’t placed on the bottom of the bag where they can be squished by other products.
Other tips for going to the farmers market with low vision
- Some markets allow customers to place orders in advance online so they can pick items up at one central location or have them delivered
- Have a plan for how to use each item purchased at the market to avoid food waste
- Check a list of vendors in advance and take note of vendors you are interested in, as well as their locations