Shopping at farmers markets is the easiest way to eat locally. You know where the food comes from: After all, the grower is right there and you can ask them. More than one shopper, however, has come home with bags of produce that went uneaten. And many others have left after a morning's tour around the stalls only to go home with a bunch of carrots and a dazed expression. A bit of planning can keep weekly shopping for produce at a farmers market fun and make cooking a snap all week long.
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1. Know Your Seasons
If you know a bit of what to expect when you get to the farmers market, making decisions at each stall is much easier. Learn what grows in your area when and talk to the growers about what will be coming to market in upcoming weeks.
2. Go Early or Go Late
Markets tend to be less crowded right when they open or just before they close (there are many, many exceptions to this, so try going to your market at different times to figure out the best time for you).
For the best selection, go to the farmers market early. The best goods go first. Popular-but-limited items may even sell out before the day is done. It’s as simple as that.
For the best deals, go to the farmers market late. Farmers and other vendors often prefer to discount products instead of loading them back up and schlepping them home. (Check out these other Tips to Save Money at Farmers Markets.) Farmers raise this food for a living, however, so don't expect or ask for deep discounts. Importantly, some markets have rules against end-of-the-day discounts.
Use these Farmers Markets Listings to locate a farmers market - and its hours - near you.
3. Bring Big Bags & Small Change
Some farmers market vendors offer bags, but they tend to be thin and flimsy plastic ones that groan under the pressure of any substantial produce purchase. Make sure everything gets home from the farmers market without crashing onto the sidewalk or spilling onto the floor of your car by bringing your own sturdy canvas or nylon bags. A backpack can make the hauling easier, especially for weighty or bulky items. I love these RuMe bags (pictured) because they fold small and carry tons.
Although vendors will make change, purchases will go easier and faster if you have exact (or close to exact) change. At some farmers markets "small change" means dimes and nickels. In larger urban areas many products at farmers markets are sold in dollar or fifty-cent increments.
4. Sketch Meals Ahead of Time
Since you know what you're likely to find at the farmers market, you can do a bit of meal planning and shop accordingly. For example, if local asparagus has just come into season and you can't get enough, you know you'll want to eat some Roasted Asparagus, some cooked into a Asparagus Chickpea Soup, and some sliced raw in an Asparagus Butter Lettuce Salad. So you'll know both how many bunches of asparagus to buy and that you'll also need some spring onions or herbs to add to the soup and some salad greens.
Gather inspiration and recipes below:
5. Plan For Spontaneity
6. Work In Volume
7. Think "Whole Foods"
No, not that “Whole Foods” – think in terms of how food grows and comes to the farmers market without being processed first. Carrots come whole and unpeeled. Beets still have greens (and dirt) attached. Learning to handle just-harvested produce can take some getting used to, but the superior flavor is worth the adjustment.
8. Get Advice
9. Invest in Wheels
If you buy a lot every week, consider acquiring a wheeled cart or wagon (strollers make wonderful conveyances for fruits and vegetables) to get your haul from the farmers market home in one trip. (But please, oh please, pay extra attention to fellow shoppers and the stalls as you push or pull your wheels through the farmers market!)