Shopping at your local farmers market has plenty of advantages over your local grocery store. And it is an easy way to eat locally. By buying direct, you are getting the freshest possible produce at the best prices, plus you can ask them where your food is actually coming from.
If you’re a novice, you may find the market a bit overwhelming the first time. So, use these guidelines to discover all that your local market has to offer.
1. Know your seasons. Learning what grows in your local area and what is in season, can help you know what to expect and make purchase decisions easier. (If you need help finding out what is in-season, check out Cooking Cheat’s fruit and vegetable charts which are a free bonus with our Freezable Freezer Meals & Preserving Cookbook.) Keep in mind some farmers markets carry only what is locally in season and, depending on harvest, this can change from week to week. So you may need to make substitutions or change your meal plans.
2. Come prepared. Bring bags, small bills, change, sunscreen, comfortable shoes and a list. Some vendors offer bags but they may not be substantial enough to carry all your produce and ensure it makes it home without breaking. Most vendors will also make change but it will go quicker if you have exact (or as close to exact) change. Preparing a list will help keep you on track.
3. Come early or arrive late. For the best selection, go to the farmers market early. For the best deals, go to the farmers market late. Usually markets also tend to be less crowded right when they open or just before they close – however each market is different so try different times to figure out the best time for you.
4. Walk a lap. Before you start shopping, walk the length of the market to see who has the freshest produce and the best prices, and then work your way back through the vendors. This insures that you get the most bang for your buck.
5. Ask about deals. Some vendors offer discounts if you buy in bulk or discount overripe fruit and unsold items at the end of the day. Some people worry how to use it all up but try new recipes with favorite vegetables or learn how to preserve food by freezing (hint, hint … Freezable Freezer Meals & Preserving), canning, and drying food for later in the year.
6. Realize it’s not a one-stop shop. While you can often find a range of products, you’ll need to pick up a number of item on your list elsewhere to supplement your market finds.
7. Research new ingredients. Websites and cookbooks like our own Cooking Cheat series are great for figuring out how to utilize new-to-you ingredients or try new ways to use old favorites. You might just discover a new favorite dish.
8. Keep it simple. You’re buying ultra-fresh produce at its prime when you shop at the farmers market, so let their natural flavor show through when you cook them. Keep preparations simple and taste the freshness.