One of the best things about farmers’ markets is that they’re populated by local farmers, vendors, and artists, which means that not only are you scoring great deals on fresh foods, but you’re also doing your part to help your local economy. That said, shopping at farmers’ markets is nothing like shopping at a grocery store, and for the uninitiated, it can be intimidating. Here’s what you need to know to have a great experience.
How to Shop at a Farmers’ Market
First things first – find your local farmers’ market by visiting Local Harvest. Then, gear up for some awesome shopping with the following in mind:
1. Bring Cash
While some vendors might be able to accept credit cards or checks, cash is king when it comes to shopping at the various booths. It’s the easiest way to ensure that you have the funds you need to buy what you want and not overspend. Put yourself on a budget, but bring a few extra bucks for impulse buys – you might see a bracelet that catches your eye, or a tomato farmer might be offering a fantastic deal for larger quantities.
2. Choose Your Time
Knowing when to shop a farmers’ market is a fine art, and the time that’s best for you relies on how you like to shop and what you plan to buy. If you want the absolute freshest produce and the most selection, arrive bright and early. On the other hand, by shopping later in the day – say, an hour before the market closes – you can get the best discounts. Since most vendors don’t want to take home their products, they’re more willing to strike a deal.
3. Make a Loop First
The best way to tackle a farmers’ market is by making a loop around the entire market first. Stay on the outskirts of the crowd and take mental notes of which booths you want to come back to. Then, after you’ve seen all the market has to offer, you can better decide how you want to spend your money. If you expect to spend a good deal of time at the market, make large purchases shortly before leaving so you won’t have to carry them around.
4. Be Prepared
If you live rather far from the closest farmers’ market or have other errands to run afterward, stash a cooler in the back of your car to keep fruits and veggies cool and fresh. And no matter what, come prepared with your own bags and containers, since vendors do not always have them on hand – not to mention, it’s more environmentally friendly.
5. Try Something New
One of the best parts of farmers’ markets is sampling new products and foods that you might have missed at the grocery store. Last year I bought a bottle of buttermilk syrup on a whim from a market vendor, and it has become an absolute staple for my family; breakfast with waffles and syrup is something we seriously look forward to. Keep an open mind and ask for samples – your new favorites might surprise you.
6. Ask Questions
While a grocery store worker doesn’t always know where the beef came from, it’s a vendor’s job to know everything about the products he or she sells. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how the food was grown, what pesticides were used, how to store something, or how to prepare a new food you’d like to try. You’ll find that most vendors are more than happy to answer your questions. They know that the more confident you feel about their products, the more likely you will be to head back for more in the future.
7. Buy In Season
A farmers’ market doesn’t have the selection of a regular grocery store since grocery stores have produce trucked in from places all over the world. Though you might not find the same variety, you can get the best tasting in-season organic foods at a farmers’ market. Check out any farmers’ market and you’ll see that berries are plentiful in May, corn is perfect in August, and apples and peaches abound in September. Knowing which fruits and veggies are in season can help you get the best deals.
8. Grab Bulk Portions
Farmers’ market vendors are usually delighted to sell large quantities of food. They might not make a ton on a pint of raspberries, but can make more on an entire flat – that’s why you can receive the best deal on bulk orders. Think about heading to the farmers’ market the next time that you’re ready to do some home canning or freezing.
9. Make a Day of It
Going to the farmers’ market is one of my favorite things to do with my family on a Saturday. There’s plenty to do and see, new foods to try, and little wares that keep my kids happy. Depending on the size of your market, plan at least an hour or two to properly peruse the grounds. While we have had times where I just stopped by briefly to grab my precious buttermilk syrup, it’s fun to relax and enjoy the local culture and atmosphere. Markets often have great live music, rallies, and tons of “street food” to try too.
10. Spread the Word
Farmers’ markets can’t survive without tons of local support. I always make a point to tell my friends when I’ve discovered something awesome at the market. Remember that the vast majority of vendors are sole proprietors, farmers, and local craftspeople who need your support to survive. Check out your local market, and make sure you don’t keep it a secret. By using word-of-mouth recommendations, you can make sure your favorite market sticks around for years to come.
If you’ve never checked out your community farmers’ market, the summer is the perfect time to start. You can’t beat a pint of organically grown raspberries or a bag of farm-fresh corn on the cob. What’s more, a trip totally cures the “boring summer day” blues when your kids are whining. And who knows? A trip to the farmer’s market might become your new family tradition.