Shopping at farmers markets is one of the best ways to eat locally. If you are used to buying your produce from your local supermarket, shopping at farmers markets may take some getting used to. Being out in the fresh air, shopping for fresh picked produce, being able to speak with the people who actually grew your food and seeing less than picture perfect produce are all realities of the farmers market experience. There is also a bit of sticker shock as prices at farmers markets are usually a bit higher than supermarket prices. However, the benefits of shopping farmers markets far outweigh the drawbacks. The produce is fresher than you will find in your local supermarket. Most times, produce at farmers markets was either picked the night before or that very morning. With a few tips under your belt, your trip to the local farmers market can be a rewarding experience. Here are some tips for successful farmers market shopping.
Farmers Market Tip: Shop by Season
Shopping at a farmers market means buying produce on nature’s terms, not your own. You will find that all produce isn’t available at all times. You’ll have to get used to eating produce according to the seasons when it is available. You can’t buy tomatoes in May or Apples in July. A friend of mine referred to it as “eating the way the pioneers did.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do agree with the general idea behind her statement. Shopping at farmers markets allows us to eat according to the seasons, much as the pioneers had to eat what was in season. Once you get used to this, it’s actually quite refreshing. I find myself looking forward to tomatoes or sweet corn coming into season, rather than being disappointed by their tasteless counterparts at the supermarket shipped in from around the world. So, get to know what grows in your area each season and embrace the delicious difference that eating according to the seasons can bring.
Farmers Market Tip: Shop Early, Shop Late
Get to the farmers market early for the best availability. The best produce or items in hot demand go early. If getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t your thing, come to the farmers market late to get great money saving deals. Vendors often do not want to cart their wares back to the farm and are willing to negotiate towards the close of the farmers market day. Many times I have gotten half off my produce just by shopping near the farmers market closing time. One drawback of shopping late in the day is that it may be a problem finding exactly what you want.
Farmers Market Tip: Bring Cash and Your Own Bags
Big bags and small change will help make your farmers market experience a great one. Yes, many vendors at a farmers market have bags available, but they are usually made of flimsy plastic. Sturdy canvas or nylon bags work well for carrying heavier produce items and helps reduce moisture buildup. Most farmers markets do not accept credit or debit cards. Small denominations of cash such as dollar bills and quarters are most useful at a farmers market since items are usually sold in dollar or fifty cent increments. Many vendors do not have change for higher denominations early in the day.
Farmers Market Tip: Be Flexible
While it is a good idea to have a general idea of what you want to buy at the farmers market, but don’t be afraid to ditch your list. There are always things that pop up at the farmers market that I hadn’t counted on, be it new varieties of produce or tomatoes showing up earlier than expected in the season. The farmers market is a great place to find new varieties of produce to try, things that you will never see in the supermarket. Every week buy one thing you’ve never had before. You never know, you may discover kohlrabi or white beets are new favorites!
Farmers Market Tip: Don’t Expect Perfection
Don’t expect perfection at a farmers market. The perfect produce you buy in supermarkets comes at a price, mainly your health. You will encounter produce that may have dirt still attached. However, if anything is bruised, wilted, moldy, or tired-looking skip it. It may be harboring harmful bacteria.
Farmers Market Tip: Ask Questions
Many times, the farmer is available to answer any questions you may have at a farmers market. I have found that most vendors are knowledgeable and willing to share information. I have even gotten recipes from farmers for cooking some unusual varieties of squash and greens. Ask questions of the vendors at the farmers market. Become a more informed consumer. Begin to build relationships with the farmers. Find out when their produce was picked. Produce begins losing its quality, flavor and nutrition soon after being picked. Corn and peas are especially prone to this deterioration. Their natural sugars can quickly convert to starches. This means a loss of flavor, sweetness and nutrition. Remember the more you ask, the more you learn.
Farmers Market Tip: Take Your Time & Take Your Kids
It may also take longer to shop at a farmers market than at a supermarket. Enjoy the slower pace and by all means take your kids. Have them help pick out their own food. Teach them about healthy foods. The more involved children are in choosing their food, the more interested they will be in eating it. My preschooler asked the other day if we could go the farmers market to buy vegetables. She was insistent that we needed some veggies to eat. Pretty wonderful! Don’t buy anything until you have walked through the entire farmers market. See what everyone has to offer, and then make your choices.
For information on farmers markets available in the West Michigan area see West Michigan Farmers Markets.