It’s almost spring, which means it’s about to be prime time for trips to the farmers market. There’s nothing better than waking up on a Saturday morning, grabbing a coffee and making your way to an outdoor market filled with fresh produce, flowers and other goods from local vendors.
If you’re actually trying to get some shopping done at your local farmers market, though, you’ll want to make sure you go in with a plan. If you don’t, you could end up spending a lot more money than you want to—or you might just go home without the produce you need for the week’s meals. Check out these helpful tips and tricks for making the most of your farmers market experience. And don’t forget to thank your farmers!
In some types of markets, it’s totally fine to haggle with stall owners to try to talk them down to a lower price. However, when it comes to shopping at your local farmers market, you’ll want to avoid this money-saving tactic. Many farmers—especially those who focus on organic produce—are already struggling to make ends meet, so they’re not likely making a huge profit from the carton of tomatoes you’re buying from them. If you’re concerned about high costs, you may want to visit your farmers market right before it closes. Sometimes, farmers will offer sale prices for their produce that hasn’t sold.
Before you head off to the farmers market, it’s smart to have some idea about what’s currently being harvested in your region. I live in the Northeast, so in the spring, I expect to find plenty of root vegetables at my farmers market, along with ramps and fiddleheads around April. Understanding what’s currently in season can help you make decisions about what you want to purchase and use in your cooking.
These days, some farmers market stands have credit card readers, which may be how you’re used to paying at the grocery store. However, it’s not guaranteed that the farmers at your local market will accept cards, so it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand. Try to bring smaller bills and change so you can easily pay for the produce you select. Having cash on hand can also be helpful when the farmers market gets super busy—you don’t want to stand in line if you don’t have to.
Depending on where you live, you may have free access to plastic or paper bags at the grocery store you frequent. However, chances are your farmers market isn’t going to provide you with bags. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to bring some reusable bags with you. That way, you’ll be able to easily carry your produce without attempting to juggle several lemons and cucumbers at a time.
If you’re the kind of person who always forgets their bags, you might want to simply keep some in the back of your car or in the bag you always carry around with you. That way, they’re always ready to go, whether you’re at the farmers market or elsewhere.
When you do your shopping at your local grocery store, you’re on your own; there’s nobody to talk to you about where the Brussels sprouts come from or discuss the best methods of cooking the organic tofu you’re picking up. But when you’re shopping at a farmers market, you do have the opportunity to ask the farmer any questions you have about the food you’re buying. Not only can this help you make better choices when you’re picking out produce, but you may also learn something about farming or cooking in the process. Plus, knowing your farmers on a personal level can make you feel better about where you’re sourcing your food from. After all, these are the people feeding us on a daily basis—we should want to get to know them!
You probably always have the same old, same old selection of produce at the grocery store you frequent, but when you shop at a farmers market, you may come across interesting items you’re unfamiliar with. Although it can be tempting to always stick to what we know, you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and try different types of produce and other products from your farmers market. Who knows? You may just find a new favorite food.
If you’re buying your produce at a grocery store, it’s probably already been scrubbed clean by the time it makes it to your shopping cart. That’s likely not going to be the reality when you’re at the farmers market. Oftentimes, when you’re buying local produce, it’ll be dirty, so you should give your fruits and veggies a scrub before you start cooking with them.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.