The best way to save money on produce in general is to buy it in season, so shopping at farmers markets is a great step in the right direction. Besides sticking to what's at the height of its season, here are a few other ways to save money at farmers markets.
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Disclaimer: Deals on in-demand items that regularly sell out are rare.
1. Buy In Bulk
The more you buy, the more likely you are to get a deal. There are often deals to be had on flats of strawberries, bushels of apples, and 20-pound boxes of tomatoes. Of course, to buy in those amounts you need to have a plan for freezing, canning, or otherwise preserving your haul.
Bulk purchases can often be arranged in advance. Many farmers are quite good at estimating how much produce they will sell at a given market, and will appreciate the advance notice to bring extra goods.
2. Go Late
The selection won't be as good and stands may be out of popular items, but vendors would often rather sell what's left at a slightly reduced price that haul it home. Don't assume the farmers have nothing else to do with their goods, however, and offer a pittance. Rounding down to the nearest dollar (or $5 increment for larger amounts) or getting a free item thrown in for purchases of multiples is the more likely scenario.
Note: Some markets have rules against end-of-the-day discounts.
3. Shop In Bad Weather
It's sad but true, bad weather brings out great deals at the farmers market. Fewer customers also means there is simply more time to talk to the farmers and learn what the best deals they have are. Perhaps the sweet peas are going gang-busters this year or they have a bumper crop of nectarines.
4. Get to Know Your Farmer (a.k.a. Be a Regular!)
That leads us to the simple practice of being a regular. Regulars at farmers markets, like elsewhere, get deals. An extra head of lettuce thrown in, for example, or an herb bouquet. Plus, for most of us, it's easier to ask a favor (Is there any way I could get an entire box of shelling beans?) from people we know than from strangers. Also, when you regularly shop at a specific stand you get a sense of their stock and will be able to better spot existing deals (Whoa Nellie but they have a lot of beets this week!).
5. Ask and Offer
You need to ask for a discount to get it. The vast majority of farmers at the vast majority of U.S. farmers markets set their prices without the expectation of haggling, so trying to bargain down every purchase is not necessarily appropriate. That said, you need to ask for deals to get them and at some markets haggling is perfectly acceptable, even expected. If that's your market, keep these basics in mind:
- Be friendly and polite, of course
- Don't offer too little – it insults the vendor
- Have cash in hand
My husband taught me the power of simply holding out the exact amount of cash you're offering for the items when you ask for the discount. Something about the sight of cash money is difficult for people to turn down.
6. Make It Easy
It's just polite. Don't try to arrange a special deal when a stand is five-deep in happy non-deal-seeking buyers. If you ask for a deal on an entire box of plums, have a way to carry those plums to your car yourself. Have bags, reasonably correct change or at least small bills to work from, and generally make giving you a deal easy for the vendor. It will make it all the more likely that you'll get a good deal the next time you ask.