This summer, more than any other year, I have had a lot of people asking me for advice on navigating the farmers market. There has been such a demand for this information that I have actually taught two separate classes on the subject. This makes me super happy because it means that more and more of us are jumping on the real food, support your local farmer bandwagon. Whoo hoo! Today, in an attempt to enrich your next visit, I am excited to share my tips and tricks for navigating the farmers market with you. Enjoy!
Navigating the Farmers Market:
Be flexible. It is good to have a general idea of what types of produce you want. (ex: salad greens, root veggies, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) However, the variety of each type of produce will vary by week. If purple bell peppers look better than red, purchase that one instead. Just because a recipe calls for red bell pepper or baby spinach, it doesn’t mean that purple peppers and baby rainbow chard can’t be used instead.
Go early.For the best selection and quality, it is best to hit the farmers market as close to opening as possible. It is also less crowded at this time so the farmers will have more time to answer your questions and teach you more about their growing process and favorite recipes.
Go late. (I know.) If you care more about saving money than getting exactly what you have on your list, hitting the farmers market 30 minutes before they shut down is an awesome way to get deals. Most farmers would much rather sell their last bit of produce at a discount than take it back home and risk it going to waste. (For those of you that make your own applesauce to freeze for winter, this is a great time to stock up on lightly bruised apples.)
Do a lap before you commit to a location. (Who can name that movie?) As tempting as it is to buy everything you see in the first two minutes, it is a good idea to do a full lap before you start overbuying. The tomatoes you see at the first stand may exceed what you see at Price Chopper, but they may still pale in comparison to what you’ll find a few stands down. That being said, if you see something you cannot live without and it is one of the last few left, snap it up!
If organically grown vegetables are important to you, ask the farmer about their growing practices. Many small farmers grow their produce with standards that meet or even exceed USDA organic standards. However, they have never been USDA certified because they cannot afford to do so. I’ve found that farmers are very honest when I ask what they spray their crops with. (Or feed their chickens, goats, and cows.)
Be consistent. As much fun as it is to check out the ambiance at the variety of farmers markets around town, I’ve found that it is best to pick one that appeals to you and visit it weekly. This will give you a rhythm and will help you know what to expect. The same farmers tend to sell at the same markets each week so it will also help you get to know them better.
Befriend your farmers. Speaking of getting to know your farmers, it is always a good idea to befriend your favorite farmers. Just as you recognize their friendly, suntanned faces, they will also begin to recognize you. Strike up a friendly conversation! The things that I have learned from my favorite farmers have opened my eyes to new growing techniques in my own backyard garden as well as new ways to prepare produce I’d never before considered. When they come to expect you each week, the farmers will also be more likely to set back an extra dozen eggs or choice cut of meat that would have otherwise already sold out. (My girls are also much for likely to try a new dish or produce variety if they know that their “farmer friend” Alicia grew it specially for them.)
Bring your own reusable bags. With our nation going more green by the year, more and more farmers are choosing not to provide plastic bags for their customers. Find something fun and you’ll look eco-friendly and fabulous while toting your goodies.
Bring small change. Your farmers will love you even more if you can pay them with exact change. Can you imagine how many small bills and coins they would have to bring if everyone paid with a crisp $20 bill straight out of the ATM? (You can also go above and beyond and round up to the next dollar, leaving the extra change as a tip!)
Think beyond fruits and veggies. Farm fresh eggs, 100% grass fed beef, fresh goat cheese, raw local honey and hand milled soaps are of the utmost quality at the farmers markets. Pick up some fresh pasta and pesto, homemade jam, or even a loaf of freshly baked bread. Yum!
Take your time. To fully experience the joy of visiting the farmers market, allow yourself ample time to explore each booth. The farmers market is about much more than just filling a bag with local produce. The farmers market offers a bond within a community, gives you a chance to breathe fresh, herb-filled air, and provides a chance to show your friends and family how diverse and unique our community is.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you were craving heirloom tomatoes and the farmers market was completely sold out, you can always stop at Whole Foods on your way home. Just saying. 🙂