As the weather starts to warm up, getting fresh, high quality, seasonal food is as easy as going to your local farmer’s market. With more and more people focusing on fresh, healthy food, there are farmer’s markets popping up in almost every neighborhood.
While it may seem as simple as just showing up and buying what you like, there are actually a few things you can do to make your experience at your local market more enjoyable than you think. Some of these will also help you save money. By following these tips, you’ll be amazed at how easy and enjoyable it is to eat fresh, seasonal produce, sometimes all year long!
1. Go Early or Go Late
The number one rule for getting what you want at the farmer’s market is to be there when whatever you want is available. Fruits and vegetables that are at their peak in the summer months will sell out quickly. This includes tomatoes, peaches, sweet corn, strawberries, and melons.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to save money and will eat whatever you can buy on for a bargain, going near the tail end of the market will be more your cup of tea.
You might get bruised and battered produce, and you will probably not get those juicy peaches everyone covets, but most vendors aren’t keen on packing up produce and taking it on the journey home, so they’ll give you a deal.
If you have several hours and can stay for the entire market, you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds.
2. Get to Know the Farmers
Going on a regular basis and getting to know the farmers can be very beneficial. For starters, they’ll tell you what’s coming up in the next weeks, as well as how to use something you may not be sure of.
Won’t be able to make it quite on time next week? A farmer that you buy from on a regular basis will be more willing to hold back a pint or two of strawberries.
There’s also something very satisfying about knowing who grows and produces your food, so make friends with the vendors you want to support.
3. Learn How to Store Your Goods
Before you buy more raspberries than you need, it helps to know how long they’ll last and how you should store them. The vendor should be able to tell you, and most will be more than willing to offer you tips on how to make your produce last. After all, they want their customers to enjoy their food so they’ll come back and buy more.
You should also take the time to learn how to store your items long-term so that you can enjoy them year round. Most fruits and veggies are easy to freeze or can, and when winter comes, you’ll be enjoying fresh, summery tasting peaches on your cereal, while everyone else is suffering with flavorless fruit.
4. Make a Meal Plan Before You Go
Making a meal plan will help keep your budget in check. If you’re supplementing your regular grocery shopping with farmer’s market trips, it helps to go to the market first and get whatever you can from there, and then head to the regular grocery store since you can get almost anything at the supermarket.
Before doing your meal planning, get a list of what is available during the current season where you live. If you get there and don’t see something, don’t be afraid to ask the vendors when it will be available. They’ll likely be able to give you a rough estimate, which you’ll be able to use for future weekly planning.
5. Bring Cash
Yes, with technology today, there are many ways for small vendors to accept credit and debit cards, and many of them definitely will. You should still do your vendors a favor and bring cash, in small bills if possible.
The reason is quite simply because it costs the vendors money to accept credit cards. Being that most farmers are small, independent businesses trying to support their families, even a few cents can make a difference. They will greatly appreciate customers that think ahead and bring cash, and sometimes may even offer a discount to those that do.
6. Focus on Produce to Maximize Health and Support Local Businesses
If you’ve never been to the market before, you may be amazed at all the goods that are available. Besides fresh fruits and vegetables, you may find breads, desserts, or even non-edible goods like jewelry or clothing.
Before buying any of these items, consider a few factors. First, make sure that the goods you’re buying are made by small artisans and not big companies (it’s not unheard of for large chains to sell items at farmer’s markets.)
Also, if you’re going to farmer’s markets to get your health in gear, you should avoid things you know are bad for you. Even cupcakes made with organic, local ingredients aren’t really healthy foods.
7. Have Something to Carry Your Goods In
Most farmers will happily give you plastic or paper bags to carry home your produce, but if you can bring your own cloth bag, they’ll silently appreciate it. Not only does this save the vendor money, but it’s also better for the environment.
Depending on what you’re buying and how long you’re staying, you should think about bringing a cooler, or even a rolling cart. Spending good money on grass fed meat and then carting it around in the hot sun for several hours doesn’t do it any favors.
Some meat and dairy vendors will provide cold storage (sometimes for a price), but you should not go to the market assuming so.
8. Think About How You’ll Use Your Goods
If you’re throwing those peaches in a smoothie, then buying the bruised peck that are on sale may make sense. If you’re turning them into a lovely peach tart for a dinner party, the bright, beautiful ones on display may be more your style.
The point is, don’t assume that you need the best looking produce. Since it all grows in the dirt and is transported in trucks where bumps and bruises are bound to occur, it may not all look shiny and pretty. Remember, you’re cooking and eating it anyway.
That being said, some items should always look fresh and healthy. Herbs and leafy greens should always be bright green and crisp looking, and avoid corn on the cob that has excessive brown spots.
9. Don’t Buy the First Thing You See
When you first get to the market, you may be tempted to buy that first pint of berries or bag of peaches you see. Resist the urge and try to walk through the entire market before making a purchase, especially for produce. You never know what someone else might have, or what the price will be.
Of course, if it’s close to market closing, you should probably buy whatever it is you want when you see it because you don’t know if it will be there when you get back. And for items like breads or goods made specifically by a certain vendor, you’re safe to buy now.
10. Don’t Assume Everything is or isn’t Organic
The term “organic” is highly regulated by the FDA, and in order for food to legally be able to be called organic, it must be certified. This certification costs money, and many small farms simply don’t pay to go through the process.
What does this mean? It means that produce that isn’t labeled may very well be grown organically. To find out, simply ask the farmer and they’ll probably be more than willing to tell you about their growing practices.
Don’t assume that this is always true, however. If you see something that is labeled as organic, it is, but the opposite is not always true. Always ask if you aren’t sure.
There are many reasons to buy at your local farmer’s market. It’s a great way to get seasonal, local, great tasting produce to add to your family’s diet. By learning the ins and outs of shopping, and following these tips, you’ll have the best experience possible, while supporting your local economy and the environment.