Everyone knows that eating locally and seasonally is good for your health and the environment. Your local farmer’s market is the perfect place to find local food in season. However, if you have never been to a farmers market before you may have some questions about how the whole thing works. I’m here today to break it all down for you with some easy tips on how to make the most of your trip to the farmers market. A trip to the farmer’s market might soon become a new favorite family tradition.
10 Farmers Market Shopping Tips
1. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. This one may seem obvious, but it serves as a good reminder. You will also need to dress for the weather. This is an outdoor market and not a grocery store. There is no climate control and you will be walking some distance and carrying heavy bags of food. Sunscreen is also important. You don’t want to bring sunburn home along with your vegetables.
2. Get there early. The vendors bring a limited number of items with them. If you want to get the best selection, earlier is better. Some crops are only available in very limited numbers. You can’t expect a wide selection of crops if you get there right before closing.
3. Park as close as possible. This goes along with getting there early. Remember, you won’t have a shopping cart and if you decide to buy that heavy watermelon or extra basket of tomatoes, you may want to run it back to the car and not break your back dragging it across town. Older children and husbands are useful for watermelon carrying also! If you don’t have helpers make sure you channel Baby from Dirty Dancing as you carry your watermelon.
4. Take cash. Some markets may be more sophisticated than others, but most only take cash as payment. I use this as my method of setting a budget. I can only spend as much money as I take with me. I use a wristlet purse I have and put my cash in there each week. Some weeks I use a little less than the budget and have extra for future weeks. This method forces me to plan ahead and not make too many impulse buys. Impulse buys usually lead to waste and that is not good for the budget.
5. Bring a sturdy bag. The vendors will usually give you plastic bags, but carrying all of those plastic bags is a pain. I prefer to use my insulated reusable grocery bag. I throw it over my shoulder and then have my hands free for making my cash purchases.
6. Don’t overbuy! I made this mistake when I first started shopping at the market. I wanted everything because it was so gorgeous and I had so many new recipes that I wanted to try. When buying fresh and especially organic foods, remember they only last a few days or up to a week. The last thing you want to do is buy lots of beautiful produce and then throw it away because it’s gone bad. I’ve done that more than once and it broke my heart. Make sure you only buy what you can use or preserve (by canning or freezing) during the week.
7. Take the kids. OK……so now most of you are thinking that I must have lost my mind! Perhaps I have lost my mind, but stick with me here. I’ve found that bringing the kids slows down my pace so I can take the time to look around. I’ve also noticed that the vendors are more likely to strike up conversations with me when I have the kids with me. The same method works with dogs, but many markets do not let dogs in. Check with your local market on their rules regarding pets.
8. Become a regular customer. For me this happened at a few booths rather naturally, but I suggest it as a strategy. By being a repeat customer, you will develop a relationship with the folks working at the booths which makes it easier to ask questions. I also see it as a perk because the kids and I sometimes get free samples to taste and other freebies thrown in our bag. It’s like being part of the frequent shopping program.
9. Create a routine. The first few times you go to the market, you will want to wander the entire market to see all it has to offer. You’ll want to figure out where the best deals are too. As time goes by and there is more and more to “Juggle” you will want to know exactly where you are going and what each booth generally has to offer. I start at my main organic stand and get as much as I can there. I then head down to a local farm’s booth and fill in some additional items there. By this time my son is bugging me about cookies and I let him pick a plate out from the Amish ladies where I buy my 100% real maple syrup. The cookies they make are still treats, but made with all real ingredients. I love that! I then head back up the aisle glancing at additional booths where I may or may not stop on my way to my favorite cheese vendors. I end my trip at The Tea and Honey Company where I get my honey and of course, our favorite cup of lemonade to carry out with us. I can now make my sweep through and still make it to morning baseball games.
10. Ask questions. There are some markets that are “growers only” markets. These are the best because you know everything is grown locally and not shipped across the country. My market is not a growers only market so I have to ask questions. Is this local? Is this organic or grown using organic methods? Many smaller farmers don’t go to the trouble of getting the “Organic” certification because it is costly. After asking questions, I have discovered that many use organic methods of farming so these are growers that I like to support. I always have lots and lots of questions for the vendors. How would you store this? How would you cook this? Can I freeze this? What do you like to eat? These folks really know their food. Use them as a resource and make sure you know what you are putting in your mouth.
Get outside this growing season and find out all your local market has to offer. The markets are a great way to turn your weekly shopping chore into a fun outing for your family. Healthy food can be fun and your trips to the market may just become a favorite part of your busy week.
What other tips do you have for shopping at farmers’ markets?