Farmer’s markets pop up in nearly every community and lure home cooks with promises of fresh food at reasonable prices. We also like to patronize them because we know it’s a good idea to support our local farmers and to buy locally whenever we can.
Whether you are a veteran farmer’s market shopper or a novice, we have seven tips that will make the experience even more enjoyable than it already is.
- Plan your meals — and be flexible: How many times have you overbought at a farmer’s market? It’s a great temptation: everything looks so fresh and bursting with flavor! To avoid this, plan a few meals and buy with them in mind. Bring a list. At the same time, be flexible. If the strawberries don’t look good, buy peaches. If the beans are tired, go for the summer squash.
- Go early: Farmers can only haul so much produce and other items to a market and often the best of the lot is sold out early. On the other hand, if you want deals, go late in the day when the farmers are trying to unload what they have not sold.
- Walk through the entire market before you buy: Take time to enjoy the visual and aromatic attractions of the market. Stroll among the stalls and see who is selling what. Don’t buy a thing until you do. This will enable you to select the best there.
- Ask questions: Farmers are usually pleased to discuss their growing practices, when the produce was picked, their favorite ways to prepare it, and what they will have for sale next week or next month depending on what is ripening in the fields. Take time to chat and find out what you can. If it’s important to you to “buy local,” it’s helpful to know where the farm is.
- Think beyond vegetables and fruit: Many vendors at farmer’s markets sell far more than vegetables and fruit. Nowadays, they are likely to offer free-range chickens, grass-fed beef and lamb, homemade pork sausages, cheese, and raw milk (if allowed to be sold in your state). Fresh eggs from free-range chickens are so much better tasting than others, you will want to grab them everytime you see them. Some have pastel colored shells, which look pretty.
- Don’t assume everything is organic: Many small farmers cannot afford the fees necessary to be certified organic. If you talk to them about their growing practices, you will be assured most are honest and do their best to grow the food responsibly. Many are organic regardless of certificates; others grow their crops sustainably. They will appreciate your interest.
- Bring bags and change: Help out by bringing your own sturdy canvas or paper bags. The farmers will thank you and your purchases will be safe. Most farmer’s markets don’t accept credit cards; cash only. Be sure to have small bills and some change to help out.
Enjoy the bounty of the summer. You will never be sorry you took the time to visit the farmer’s market. In fact, you will look forward to it every week!