If you are a new farmer’s market shopper and are looking for ways to feed your family better, if you are a “foodie”, or you just like knowing where your food is coming from, farmer’s markets are the answer. To get the most out of your visit, we’ve compiled some tips to make your visit productive – and enjoyable!
- Shop early. Try not to be the early bird who arrives while the vendors are still setting up. But get there early enough to get “first pick” of the “fresh from the garden” produce the farmers have to offer and you’ll have more variety. Later in the day the produce you want most may be gone.
- Take a walk. Do a “lap” around the entire market before you decide to buy anything. See what’s there. If you start shopping immediately you might miss some great products a little further down the line. Farmers near the entrance may not have the one item that will make your taste buds dance. So check it all out before you buy.
- Know your seasons. If a vendor is carrying mangoes, bananas and pineapple, common sense tells you it’s not local. That produce has traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to market. It’s not fresh. It’s not local. Sure, we like pineapples too, but you can buy them at any old grocery and it defeats the purpose of shopping at a farmer’s market. Likewise, be skeptical of any produce that may be grown locally but is wildly out of season. Don’t look for strawberries in early May or tomatoes for Memorial Day. You may find them. But they aren’t local. Shop for what’s local and in season. Not only will you get great variety, you’ll get better nutrition.
- Talk to the vendors. Ask the farmers questions. Most will be happy to tell you about their products. Ask how it’s grown. Ask what the farmers do with it. Pick it up. Produce doesn’t come on foam trays wrapped in cellophane. You can see the entire fruit or vegetable. And you can buy only what you need, so there is no waste. Smell it. Some vendors may even give you a taste. And don’t forget to ask if they have recipes to share for some of the unfamiliar produce. Get to know your farmers. You’ll get to know where your food is coming from. And, if you’re lucky, once they know you, they might put aside that last box of strawberries or a dozen eggs for you.
- Be flexible. And keep it simple. If you go to the market looking for something in particular you may be disappointed. Harvesting some produce is contingent upon how the weather has behaved the previous few days. If you can’t get what you want, be willing to substitute something else that is fresh and looks good. This is a great time to try unfamiliar products. And the real beauty of fresh produce is that it doesn’t need much help to show off its taste and texture. Simple preparations let the product shine through.
- Take your own bags. Most of the vendors have plastic bags available for your purchases. But, let’s face it, the quality of those bags isn’t great and they tear easily. There’s nothing worse than losing your week’s bounty on the ground. So head disappointment off before it happens. Take a sturdy canvas bag to hold your purchases.
- Take small bills. Many markets now take EBT cards and can run your card through the EBT terminal. But there is a charge associated with each of those transactions. A charge that will have to be passed along. A few farmers will take personal checks drawn on local banks. But they all take cash. Just don’t make it difficult. Take small bills that won’t require the vendor to make a great deal of change.
- Explore the market. Most feature more than just fresh produce and meat. Many markets have vendors who sell homemade baked goods, soaps, beeswax candles, jams and plants. And if all that shopping makes you hungry? Some even have food vendors to fill the hollow spot until you can get home to take advantage of all your new purchases.