Farmers Markets are the bomb. Yep, I just said that. Because it’s true. Of course I buy produce from the grocery store when I need something during the week, but we will jump on any chance we have to stock up at our local farmers markets.
Freshness, variety, atmosphere…farmers markets have it all. Reaping the finest rewards from these local gems requires a little thought and planning. Following the 11 guidelines below will help you maximize your farmers market success.
1. Make a List Before You Go
You wouldn’t go to the grocery store without a list, right? Same goes for the farmers market.
Before you leave home, check your refrigerator and pantry and make note of fresh produce and pantry staples to look for. Depending on the size and location of your market, pantry items may include things like honey, olive oil, pickles and other preserved veggies, jams and jellies, breads, and other pastries.
If you are a plan-ahead cook, work out your weekly meal plan before you go, and then look for the vegetables and fruits you will need for the week. Conversely, you could buy what is fresh and in season and then plan your meals around your market finds. (Want to plan your meals the easy way? Check out the planner we use, Plan to Eat).
2. Go Early
Things tend to sell out fast at farmer’s markets, so the earlier you can get there the better your chances of getting the freshest produce.
Plus, you’ll beat the rush for parking. Once you finish your shopping you’ll have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a little people-watching or that bakery treat or nice piece of fruit you just bought.
3. Make the Rounds Before Buying
Because fruits and vegetables are seasonal, most produce vendors will have the same items.
Before I make my first purchase, I always take a few minutes to do a walk-through. I look at what each produce vendor has to offer, noting prices and freshness as I go. This way, I’ll be sure to get the best, freshest food for the best prices.
4. Buy Only What You Will Use (or freeze/preserve)
You may come across the freshest, most awesome looking kale you’ve ever seen, but if you go crazy and buy 6 bunches and you’ll really only use 2, then you’re just wasting money (and food!)
Only buy as much as you can use, freeze, or preserve in the next week.
5. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)
Vendors generally have plastic grocery bags for your purchases. Some recycle them from previous uses (yay for them!), but most that I’ve seen are new. We already have these stashed in our pantry, so I always bring some with me.
More importantly, I always bring along my Flip & Tumble mesh produce bags and recyclable grocery bags. Having these along saves me from accumulating more plastic bags at home and saves the vendors money (those bags aren’t free!).
6. Bring a Cart
At the beginning of our farmer’s market experience we hauled all of our bags around by hand. Not bad on a light shopping day, but if we bought eggs, jam, salsa, and bread PLUS all of our produce, stuff got heavy!
And then we got smart…we got a cart! There are lots of different sizes and styles. Ours is just a basic upright cart that folds flat for storage. It’s lightweight and easy to maneuver.
7. Bring Cash
While some vendors will be able to accept credit cards on their phones, most won’t. And besides, is using a card to pay for a bunch of $3 and $4 purchases really worth it?
Make it easy on yourself and vendors and bring plenty of ones.
8. Put an Ice-Filled Cooler in Your Trunk
You hit the market early, had a nice breakfast and some fresh-brewed organic coffee. You got your fill of people-watching and good music. You’re ready to head out, but the day is still young and beautiful and there are so many exciting places you want to go (home isn’t one of them just yet!).
Having a cooler with ice in your trunk allows you to keep any perishable purchases cold while you enjoy the rest of your day. (BONUS: We keep the ice in our freezer fresh by dumping it all into a cooler once a week and allowing the freezer to make more).
9. Don’t Fall for the “Health Halo”
Remember, being a farmers market offering doesn’t automatically make a food healthy! A few things that come to mind: bakery items, fried foods from food trucks, candies (oh my goodness…those pecan pralines and handmade chocolates!).
Make the majority of your purchases healthy fruits and vegetables, but do allow yourself a small treat from time to time.
10. Ask Questions
You’ll find that most of the produce vendors at farmers’ markets are either the farmers themselves, their family members, or the workers who actually helped to plant, care for, and harvest the goodies they’re selling.
Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about the varieties they offer, their growing techniques, the history of their farm, et cetera. If it is not posted in their booth, I’ll often ask if they are organic.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
The only way to expand your palate is to try new foods, and a farmers market is a great place for it. Farmers will often grow varieties of vegetables and fruits that aren’t available in the grocery store. Our local market has a vendor who sells Indian foods — I had my first samosas there.