It’s finally Spring and that means the farmer’s markets are reemerging after Winter in many places. These markets are my favorite place to buy in-season fruits and vegetables. That’s probably the only reason I don’t like living somewhere with super cold Winters. The farmer’s market offers the added benefits of supporting local farmers and merchants and finding a lot of one-of-a-kind goods.
I’m always talking about the benefits of eating with the seasons. Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season offer a range of benefits including more vibrant tastes and colors (colors = phytochemicals, btw) and cheaper prices. It also helps you naturally rotate through a variety of fruits and veggies for a broad nutritional profile.
If you’re new to shopping at farmer’s markets, here are some tips and tricks you should know that will help you make the most out of your shopping trips.
Tips and Tricks for Shopping at a Farmer’s Market
1. Learn about the farms and their farmers
This is the most important tip I have. Maybe I should have saved it for last. Hmm. Well, anyway, the farmer’s market is all about the farmers/farms. We shop at the farmer’s market because we want fresh, local, responsibly grown food. A huge advantage of buying straight from the source is the opportunity to learn about how their food is grown and its origins.
If you have questions about vegetables you aren’t familiar with, they are the best people to talk to. These farmers know their crops and they can probably even tell you the best way to cook certain vegetables for the best results. Some may even give you samples if you’re on the fence about buying something.
These are good questions to ask:
- Where is your farm located?
- How long have you been farming?
- What other fruits and vegetables do you grow?
- When was this fruit or vegetable picked?
- Was this produce grown without pesticides? If so, what do you use to keep insects at bay?
- How should I store or prepare this food?
- What crops do you have coming up next month?
2. Make a lap around the market first
Take it all in and see what’s available before you start shopping. Often when you make an early purchase you’ll go on to find the same thing but for a better deal or maybe something you wanted even more than that. A quick once-over before making any decisions will prevent buyers’ remorse because most vendors don’t do returns at the farmer’s market.
3. Bring cash and a card
There was a time (showing my age here) when you could only shop with cash at the farmer’s market. There were no credit card processing or money transfer apps. Today, you’ll find that many vendors accept credit or debit, but not all of them. It’s always smart to take cash and make sure you bring small change. Especially if you show up a little later after other people have already paid with bigger bills and used up all the change the vendors brought.
4. Go early
Many people show up as soon as the “doors” open because they want the first pick of the best produce. That’s why you’ll want to show up early too. You never know how quickly farmers or vendors will sell out of or, as I mentioned in the last tip, run out of change. On the other hand, at your farmer’s market, right at opening may be a slightly slower time which means you’ll get in before the crowd. These things can differ with each market.
5. Go late
I know I just said go early, but really what I should have said was try going at different times and see what works best at your market. The benefit of going late is that farmers and merchants are likely to give you a little discount to take some of the remainder of their goods off their hands. They don’t want to go back with anything they came with. Of course, if you do go late you run the risk of there not being much left to pick from. But that may be worth it to you, depending on what you’re looking for and how important it is to you to get a good deal.
6. Bring bags
Bringing your own bags to the farmer’s market is not only helpful, but it’s also completely necessary if you plan on buying multiple things. Many vendors won’t have bags for their items (this can vary from market to market). Taking large, reusable bags with you will allow you to purchase everything you want. Always bring extra just in case you run into things you weren’t expecting to buy.
7. Buy in bulk
If you’re on the hunt for a great deal, buy what you can in bulk. If there are some items that will keep longer than others or you just happen to eat a lot of, buy large quantities for discounts. If you’re worried you won’t be able to use it all before it goes bad, consider canning, freezing, or drying.
8. Plan ahead
Planning ahead before going to the farmer’s market is just as important as it is before going to the grocery store. If you don’t know what you’re going to be cooking, you’re probably going to buy a lot of unnecessary stuff and then end up wasting a lot. Make a quick meal plan for the week and don’t forget to buy fruit for snacks. To do this, you’ll have to know what’s in season. You can figure that out with a simple google search for in season produce in your location or use this helpful seasonal produce guide.
Staying connected to your local farmers
One of the best things you can do to make your visits to the farmer’s market better is to follow the farmers you meet there on social media. Most of them will have at least a Facebook page you can follow that will keep you up to date on what they’ll have the next week so you can adjust your shopping list. A lot of times farmers are happy to arrange special orders if you message them ahead of time. Just make sure you make it to the market to get your order since they’ve gone out of their way to set something aside for you.
Staying connected with your local farmers and what they have going on will help them grow in the community. Supporting local food growers is vital to not only the strength and health of your local community and economy but also the ecosystem. They maintain fertile soil, protect water sources, prevent erosion, and replace carbon dioxide with oxygen in the atmosphere. That’s a whole other topic for another blogger, but suffice it to say that they are important for our health and the planet’s health.
I hope you’ll take these tips and go out and find your local farmer’s market!