We who live in the frozen upper Midwest eagerly awaits the opening of the farmer’s markets each year. This is our chance for a few short months to stock up on freshly grown fruits and vegetables. Many of the farmer’s markets also feature locally raised meats, eggs, flowers, and honey. You can also find fresh bakery items, local cheese, and local-made soaps, along with craft items. These markets are taking on an old fashioned main street atmosphere where people come to shop and meet their neighbors. Some markets even provide entertainment.
One thing is certain and that is if you are shopping the farmer’s market for your weekly produce you need to come with a plan. As a general rule a farmer’s market is a cash only venue, where your Visa and debit card is not welcome. You can quickly use up your cash on the other items and not even get to the produce.
First thing is to prepare for your shopping. You will need bags. Do not rely on the vendors’ plastic bags, most of the time these have been used many times over or are very thin. Get yourself some good large heavy weight canvas shopping bags. Next is your shopping cart. The market will not be providing one so if you want to use a cart you have to bring one along. I use an old red wagon borrowed from my grandchildren. Other suggestions are baby buggies and strollers. You can usually pick these up at a second hand store for not much money and they have the advantage of folding when not in use. Another idea is to purchase a shopping cart. You can find them as low as $30.00 on line.
Go to the market with a list which you have made from recipes for the coming week’s meals. What you will be buying contains no preservatives and will need to be used quickly. It is easy to over buy and then have to throw away food which has gone bad. Know how much you will be using of each item you plan to purchase. Remember that produce like onions, carrots, potatoes and squash will keep longer than lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers. Most fresh herbs tend to loose their freshness soon after picking and are hard to keep more than a few days. Plan ahead how you will be storing what you purchase.
Arrive at the farmer’s market early. A lot of times popular items will sell out quickly and there is no warehouse the vendors have to bring in more. The produce is also fresher, often you will be buying items just a few hours after it was picked. Some people like to shop at closing time to get better deals but I prefer variety and freshness over saving a few pennies.
My method when I arrive at the farmer’s market is to walk directly to the middle. Most of the time the farmer’s market is set up with the craft items, flowers, and other non edibles arranged on the outside. Remember you have cash and if you load up on those tempting goodies you may not have enough cash to get want you came here for. The middle of the farmer’s markets is usually where the produce vendors are. You will find many booths set up selling the same items. The prices will be different. I begin by searching out the cleanest booths. This is a lesson I learned after carrying home a bag of cockroaches from one farmer’s market. The cheapest is not always the best.
I will make notes on my list as to the prices at the booths where I want to shop. Next I will ask at the booth if they had grown the produce and when it was picked. Believe it or not some vendors actually buy their stuff from grocery wholesalers and then set up booths doubling the price for what you could simply buy in the grocery store. I am not an organic only person but if this is important to you ask. In our area there are many Hmong families who grow produce on communal plots then sell it at the local farmer’s markets. I have always found their goods to be top quality, fresh and very reasonably priced.
After I have completed my list, it is time for a treat. This is when I venture away from the middle of the farmer’s market. At one market I found home made soap which had no scent and kept away the mosquitoes all summer long. Another market had freshly churned butter. On a weekend trip we happened upon a market with a large Mexican American representation. Here we found freshly made tortillas, tamales we could take home and warm up, and a wonderful selection of peppers.
Take time to explore the farmer’s market and see what new things you can buy and try. Often the vendors will have recipes or tips on how to prepare what they are selling. As the season comes to an end consider buying some bulk items and learning how to preserve by canning. You can also safely buy onions and potatoes to store in a cool dark place.
Make the most of your shopping experience at the farmer’s market but most of all enjoy your time there. There tends to be a friendlier atmosphere than at a regular grocery store. The farmer’s market is one place where you can enjoy shopping.