Why We Love Photographing Our Farmers’ Market Hauls

by Hannah Walhout

Published: 8/09/23, Last updated: 3/22/24

You’ve probably seen one on your feed by now: an intentional array of produce, shot from overhead, with fruits and vegetables arranged in artful clusters, placed in pleasingly exact lines or carefully scattered to give a sense of organized chaos. The still life is likely resting atop a reclaimed-wood farmhouse table — or tiled counter, or perhaps a swath of linen. Sunlight seems to be pouring in from a large window just out of frame.

Maybe there’s even a hashtag. This, dear reader, is the #ProduceHaul in the age of Instagram.

FIND WHAT'S IN SEASON

“A produce haul photo is an art form in itself,” says Nat Geisel, FoodPrint’s social media and community engagement coordinator. “These tend to take over Instagram feeds more in the summer due to the bright colors of summer produce.” Around this time of year, the tableaux often feature scene stealers like plump heirloom tomatoes of all different sizes — red and yellow and green and purple, with or without stripes — plus squash blossoms, eggplant, juicy melons and peaches or bunches of basil, dill, mint or lavender. “But they still pop up throughout the other months, too,” Geisel adds, “which feels even more important, since winter produce doesn’t get as much love as spring or summer.”

Explore Instagram tags like #SummerProduce or #FarmersMarketHaul and you’ll see plenty of images of raw, whole, beautiful fruits and vegetables, from chefs, influencers and regular food-loving social media users alike. Some people play up the colors, as with this purple and green eggplant-pepper extravaganza from Toronto-based blogger and cookbook author Luay Ghafari. Chef Sophie Skowronek took a more playful approach, turning Sicilian produce at the agriturismo Casa Lawa into a hybrid centerpiece-crudité platter (complete with goblets of dressing). Herbalist Brianna Cherniak arranged a recent harvestokra, tomatoes, avocado, beans — in a basket, photographing it in situ in the garden instead of on a table.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Luay Ghafari (@urbanfarmandkitchen)

So what makes this type of photo work so well? Produce has been a still-life fixture for centuries, of course, and for a reason. (Though now you can also tag your favorite farmers’ market stand or CSA.) It’s an easy way to celebrate the rewards of the season, but also gets at more intangible things like the idea of abundance and the sweetness of life. We also seem to be genuinely curious about what other people are eating; these “haul” photos bring to mind the work of photographer Peter Menzel, whose 2005 book “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” shows the weekly groceries (and grocery bills) of families in 24 countries around the world. It won Book of the Year in the 2006 James Beard Awards.

“I think [these photos] invoke emotion,” says food photographer Nate Crawford. “Food has this wonderfully whimsical way of telling a story in front of the lens. I find myself gravitating towards food images that spark not only hunger, but nostalgia, joy. I think people like this type of food photo because it reminds them of home.”

From an aesthetic standpoint, there’s no denying that the colors of nature like to pop on camera, especially in the summer when fruits and flowers are really showing off. Interest in these immaculate fruits and vegetables might also relate to the popularity of other genres that are part aspirational, part ASMR — like #PantryGoals and the enduring (but maybe unrealistic) appeal of a well-organized kitchen. Like a well-organized kitchen, or a still life of an overflowing table, a gorgeous produce haul is also a bit of a brag. Farmers’ market produce can be more expensive than grocery store fruits and vegetables, and with food prices feeling especially high, some people will break down what they spent and how they saved. On the whole, though, captions rarely include a price tag.

But it’s not just the people buying or eating the vegetables who are posting. For small farms, markets and CSAs, photos like this are a great way to highlight their wares on a more detailed level — the many-colored stems of rainbow chard, or the pearlescent kernels of a perfectly sweet ear of corn — and to get their followers excited about produce. “Social media is the new frontier of marketing for businesses,” says Crawford. “I have seen the power of social media at work firsthand, and it’s powerful.”

Choy Division, a regenerative farm and CSA in upstate New York, shows off the unique shapes of shiso, sweet potato greens, Japanese cucumber, aehobak (Korean zucchini) and other East Asian heritage crops. Radical Family Farms of Sebastopol, California, posted an array of summer greens to give a preview for CSA members — and provide more information about their program to provide free produce to Bay Area seniors. Paying special attention to composition and contrast is a great way for growers to show off their wares, even for produce that’s generally less celebrated: Ten Mothers Farm, in the Piedmont of North Carolina, shot some of their winter CSA offerings, treating humble sweet potatoes and cabbage with the reverence they deserve.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ten Mothers Farm (@tenmothersfarm)

With the wealth of vegetable-focused cookbooks from the past few years, you might even see the same type of image on a book jacket: The covers of “Your Daily Veg” and “More Daily Veg” by Joe Woodhouse, “Vegetable Revelations” by Steven Satterfield and Nik Sharma’s forthcoming “Veg-Table” show arrangements of raw, whole vegetables in all their glory (with no completed dish in sight).

Keeping an eye on what’s making the grid can help you plan for your next shopping trip and the meals you make from it. “Produce hauls on social media are exciting for me because they give me a glimpse into what farmers’ markets will have and how I can direct my meals for the week,” says Geisel. “I like how farmers’ markets and social media are both forms of community. It’s cool to see the two come together.”

How to Shoot the Perfect #ProduceHaul

Want to try your own version? It doesn’t take much to make summer produce look glorious. “I’ve been photographing food for nearly a decade now,” says Crawford, “and I’ve learned to not overcomplicate things when it comes to taking a good food photo.”

The most important thing, Crawford says, is lighting. (“No amount of editing will fix a poorly lit photo.”) But that doesn’t mean you’ll need any fancy equipment. Use the sun to your advantage and set up near a window. “If it’s a sunny day, you can hang up a simple white bed sheet to help diffuse, or soften, your light and create really nice, soft shadows.” Nail the lighting and, for most of us, an iPhone camera will be just fine.

There are lots of ways to curate what you’re actually shooting; just be intentional. You can choose produce of dramatically different sizes or colors, for visual interest. Alternatively, you can make it monochrome — strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, bell peppers — or pick out things that are exactly the same size or shape and order them in a line, circle or grid. You can space them evenly to create a pattern or arrange asymmetrically to add movement and create a center of interest. If you give some thought to it, that will come across. (And if you need inspiration, just head to Instagram.)

Remember, food isn’t just a prop — it’s important to actually eat everything after shooting it. But posting your haul can be a great way to think differently about produce or get your social media community to do the same. “Not only does it show off the beauty of individual fruits and vegetables,” says Geisel, “but it also highlights what seasonal eating looks like.”

Top photo by bit24/ Adobe Stock.

More Reading

7 books about onions, garlic and the wide world of alliums

March 13, 2024

Eat seasonally this winter with persimmons

January 18, 2024

Commit to sustainable habits with our Reduce Your Foodprint Challenge

December 18, 2023

9 homemade preserves to gift (or keep) this holiday season

December 12, 2023

Get creative with these food preservation methods

December 1, 2023

Meatless Monday: The first 20 years

November 1, 2023

Why 2023 is the International Year of Millets

October 5, 2023

Eat more grains — and keep it local

September 29, 2023

When it comes to sustainable spices, 'single-origin' isn’t everything

September 8, 2023