You can’t get much more local than your favorite farmers market. These sustainable marketplaces present a unique opportunity to meet the people who grow your food, connect with your community and explore organic, farm fresh produce. Read on for our guide to shopping at your local farmers market.
What You’ll Find At A Farmers Market
You won’t just find fresh fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market. Many stalls are bursting with additional items to add to your shopping list. Here’s what you can expect to find during your visit:
- Seasonal and heirloom fruits and vegetables
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Free-range eggs
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Cheese and dairy products
- Fresh bread and baked goods
- Jams, honeys and preserves
- Arts and crafts
- Flowers and potted plants
- Coffee, tea, juices and snacks
- To-go meals
Farmers Market Tips
Whether you’re a seasoned shopper or first-timer, here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping at your favorite farmers market.
1. Know What’s In Season
Keep in mind that a farmers market won’t have the same selection as a regular grocery store – and that’s a good thing! Because the food is locally-grown, you’re choosing from produce that is in-season and hasn’t traveled far to reach your plate. While this means you won’t spot bananas or mangoes, you will find seasonal produce picked at its peak time to deliver maximum nutrients and flavor.
If you live in a moderate climate, these are some of the fresh fruits and vegetables you can expect to see during each season:
- Spring: Strawberries, asparagus, peas, rhubarb, arugula, radishes
- Summer: Tomatoes, corn, berries, stone fruits, hot peppers, zucchini
- Fall: Apples, pumpkins, leeks, eggplant, cranberries, greens
- Winter: Winter squash, root vegetables, garlic, cabbage, pears
2. Pick The Best Time To Shop
The best time to shop at a farmers market tends to be just as it opens or just before it closes. For the best selection, we advise getting to the market early. The highest quality fruits and vegetables go first and popular items can even sell out by the end of the day. For the best deals, arrive later in the day. Some vendors will provide discount pricing to sell out their produce by the end of the day. You might also try shopping at a farmers market mid-week. This time is less crowded and will make for a more efficient visit.
3. Bring Cash
These days, many booths accept debit and credit but most will only take cash. For a quick and easy checkout, bring small bills and change that will be easy for vendors to handle. Carry enough cash to stick to your budget, but bring a few extra bucks for impulse buys – you never know what unexpected fruit or vegetable will catch your eye!
4. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)
Most farmers markets are zero-waste areas which means no plastic shopping bags (cue slow hand clap). By bringing your own bags, boxes or baskets, you help to reduce waste at the market and at home. Pro tip: If you’re shopping for products that require refrigeration, opt for a rolling cooler that will keep them fresh.
5. Have A Game Plan
If you’re heading to the market during peak season, it’s bound to be bustling. You can keep your visit short and sweet by planning your meals, knowing your vendors and shopping accordingly. That said, you should always leave a little wiggle room for your weekly menu. You don’t want to miss a great deal on your favorite staple or skip an heirloom variety you’ve never tried.
6. Embrace Imperfection
The beauty of whole foods lies in their visual imperfection. It’s a sure sign that the food is indeed local and has no impact on its nutritional value or flavor. Be prepared to encounter fruits and vegetables that come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Much of the produce – especially root vegetables – will look like it has just been hand-picked, with traces of soil clinging to earthy, untrimmed roots. Simply give them a good rinse when you return home and they’ll be ready for your favorite recipe.
7. Handle Farmers Market Produce With Care
Just because a fruit or vegetable looks imperfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t handle it with care. Show respect for the time and techniques taken by the farmer in growing and delivering their produce. Rather than squeeze a fruit to test for ripeness, ask the vendor to help you. Many will be happy to provide a sample for you to try.
8. Don’t Expect To Bargain
If you’re tempted to strike a bargain, don’t expect to be greeted with enthusiasm. Farmers markets are about quality and craftsmanship and in general, haggling for a deal is discouraged. Instead, stroll the aisles to compare prices, see what’s in season and discover the highest quality produce you can buy within your budget. If you’re set on negotiating, make an offer but don’t push it. If the vendor isn’t interested, it’s best to respect their wishes.
9. Build Relationships
One of the best parts about visiting farmers markets is becoming a regular. Don’t be afraid to build relationships with your favorite vendors. Ask them questions about how their food is grown, what fruits and vegetables they recommend and how you can keep your items fresh. If you try something new that is particularly delicious, don’t be afraid to tell them! Many are also passionate cooks and will be delighted to provide additional preparation and cooking tips.
10. Offer To Volunteer!
If you are interested in lending a hand, offer to volunteer. You can approach the farmers market itself or even your favorite vendor. This is a fantastic way to get involved in your community and learn even more about how organic food is grown. You may even head home with extras!
What are your best farmers market finds? Share them with us in the comments below!