When you visit your local Farmers Market, the sheer quantity and variety can become overwhelming. It’s easy to buy too much or too little, pay too much, or leave with something you don’t use. To celebrate National Farmers Market Week, August 6-12, 2017, we’re here to help with these pro tips! Follow these instructions to make the most out of your next visit to your local Farmers Market.
1. Know What’s In Season
Following in-season charts like this one from the USDA or this one from EWG.org will keep your expectations realistic and will help you eat the freshest produce year round. Seeking oranges in Colorado or pineapple in Georgia in summer, for example, will probably lead to disappointment. On the other hand, knowing what’s in season can open up entirely new types of produce that your family may love!
This is not meant to say that out of season produce will not be available at your local Farmers Market. It simply means that, if that produce appears, you will know that it is probably not as fresh as it would be in its season.
2. Have a List
If you make weekly trips to your local Farmers Market, it’s a good idea to bring a shopping list. This will help you stay focused on the items you actually need, instead of getting distracted by all the other options.
Since you need a list, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week, as well. This will help you avoid buying items you can’t use and allow you to make substitutions as you see fit, in case the items on your list aren’t available.
3. Arrive Early
You’ll get the best selection of items and enjoy some of the fun of watching the vendors set up. However, please don’t ask to buy before vendors are open; this can put them behind on set up and could affect them for the whole day.
Vendors generally sell out of their best products by early afternoon, especially highly perishable items or items that are coming into/ going out of season.
4. Take a Lap Before Buying
It’s easy to get seduced by some of the big stands with colorful signs right by the entrance, but you may find better pricing or better products further down the aisle or near the exit. Making a full lap through the market before buying can help you save money.
I’ve seen price differences up to $1/ pound between entrance-area stands and stands further into the market. It pays to shop around.
5. Ask Questions
Most farmers are happy to answer questions about their operations (assuming they aren’t too busy with other customers). They’re excited to share information with interested customers. They can also help you select the best product and give you cooking tips for those rutabagas.
Unsure if the vendor follows organic practices? Just ask!
6. Allow for Spontaneous Purchases
Even knowing the current produce in season may not prepare you for the availability of pre-season strawberries, asparagus, or squash blossoms. Leave some room on your list to get some of these great finds!
Also, some vendors may have different varieties than you’re used to seeing at your local supermarket. Be willing to try these; you may find out you like them better!
Heirloom varieties of many types of produce are also available at many Farmers Markets. These varieties may not look like your typical supermarket tomatoes or carrots, so keep an open mind.
7. Bring Your Own Totes or Coolers
Most vendors don’t like to cut into their already thin profits by providing plastic bags for each of your purchases. Besides, those thin plastic bags will not hold up when you buy a dozen ears of corn or a couple of watermelons.
Also, part of the point of shopping your local Farmers Markets is being able to cut down on the waste that comes with supermarket shopping, and that includes plastic bags.
Make sure you bring totes or coolers with plenty of room, since we all buy more than originally planned.
If you shop heavily on a regular basis, you may also want to invest in a cart with wheels.
8. Buy in Bulk When Possible
Many vendors will offer a discount for buying in bulk. You can always dry, can, or freeze the produce you won’t use immediately.
Aside from saving money, you’re also stocking up on in-season produce. You’ll thank yourself later in the season or over the winter, when you still have the taste of summer available in your freezer or pantry.
9. Bring Small Change
ATM’s and credit card machines can be scarce and hard to find at many Farmers Markets, so make sure you come prepared with cash.
Also, many vendors will not have change for large bills (particularly at the beginning of the day), so bring as many small bills as you can.
10. Dress Comfortably
You’ll most likely be outside in the heat when you visit your local Farmers Market. Make sure you dress appropriately for the season, from your head (sun hats can come in handy) to your feet (sturdy sandals or tennis shoes are indispensable).
Keep the same ideas in mind for your kids. It’s a great idea to bring them along and can help them grow up appreciating truly fresh produce and local farmers. However, make sure they are also dressed appropriately and have the opportunity to cool down if necessary.
11. Don’t Haggle
While haggling is par for the course at flea markets and some other stands, haggling at Farmers Markets is considered poor form. In many cases, the farmers are already offering their best prices. Also, many vendors’ prices are better than the prices you can find at your local supermarket.
Being involved in Farmers Markets can be hard work for farmers who may not have a lot of help. It also takes them away from their farms for a significant chunk of the day, when other work could be accomplished. Respect the farmers’ time and effort by resisting the urge to ask them to lower their prices.
12. Shop Late
On the other hand, arriving towards the end of the day can reward you with lower prices. Many vendors will discount their prices at the end of the market day. They often don’t want to haul the produce back home, where more ripe produce awaits them.
If you are truly looking for bargains at your local Farmers Market, check in with the vendors in the last hour of the day.
This tip doesn’t apply to all vendors or all markets. You’ll need to check out the ones in your area.
13. Store Produce Properly
Most purchases will need to be stored in the refrigerator (or even a cooler in your car, if you plan to run other errands). Don’t ruin everything you just bought by letting it spoil in a hot car or on your counter!
Tomatoes should be left on the counter, stem side down, when you return home. Otherwise, refrigerate everything.
14. Wash Everything
Most farmers will wash the produce before bringing it to the market, but it’s still a good idea to wash everything before you eat it. Some produce can be washed before refrigeration, but you should wait to wash berries until just before you prepare them.
15. Be Patient
Vendors can get very busy, and the wait can sometimes be long. Just be patient and remember that fresh produce is worth the wait. While you’re waiting, chat with other shoppers or vendors who aren’t as busy. You can learn a lot from other shoppers and farmers!
Now that you have our best tips, you should be a pro at your local Farmers Market in no time!
Do you have other tips for shopping the Farmers Market? Please share them in the comments!