In this episode of the Vegetarian Zen Podcast, we’ll be discussing how to shop smart at farmers markets. These venues are a great place to shop for fresh, local veggies and fruits, plus scratch-made bread and pastries, jams and jellies, honey, soap, and lots more.
You can listen to our discussion of farmers market tips here or, read on for a quick summary.
Our 11 Farmers Market Tips
Shopping at a fresh market is very different (and in our opinion, much better!) than a trip to the grocery store. The fresh air, the smell of produce, freshly baked goods, and music (sometimes) is so much fun!
Before you head out to your local farmers market here, are 11 tips to share that we’ve learned over the years from experience. These are designed to save you time and money.
1. Make a List Before You Go
The first of our farmers market tips is all about organization. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store without a list, right? The 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).
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2. Go Early
Things tend to sell out fast at farmers 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. Get the “Lay of the Land” Before You Start To Buy
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)
I always bring along my reusable produce bags as well as some 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!).
- Premium reusable mesh produce bags are made of eco-friendly breathable materials
- BPA FREE
- Machine washable
6. Bring a Cart
At the beginning of our farmers 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.
- 300 lb capacity
- Front-wheel swivel
- 30-second easy snap-on assembly
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).
- Keeps the ice 5-day ice retention at temperatures up to 90 degree
- Leak-resistant drain lets you remove water without turning the cooler upside down
- Low Co2 insulation for reduced carbon emissions from foam manufacturing
- Extreme technology uses an insulated lid and extra insulation in the walls for longer ice retention
- Holds 95 cans; Made in the USA
9. Don’t Fall for the “Health Halo”
Remember, being a farmers market offering doesn’t automatically make 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 of course, indulging in a few treats is nice too!
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.
Check out episode 164 of our podcast for more ideas of questions you can ask.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
The last of our farmers market tips is all about being adventurous! 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.
We hope you find these farmers market tips useful and that they save you some time and money on your next outing.
Peace and Veggies,
Vickie and Larissa
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Recipe of the Week
- How to Make No-Cook Freezer Jam (with recipes!)
Quotes of the Week
You can’t buy happiness but you can buy local, and that’s kind of the same thing.
Thanks for listening!
Peace and Veggies,
Vickie and Larissa