Farmers’ markets are a great way to find fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and more in your neighborhood. They allow you to interact directly with the grower, which can also mean lower prices for delicious produce. If you’ve never been to a farmers’ market before, or if you’re only starting to attend, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time there.
Before you go
Get to know the local fruits and vegetables in your region and find out what grows in which season. This will help you identify the freshest produce. For example, you may see apples in April that you know have been in cold storage since October. Knowing when and what farmers grow locally will also allow you make a shopping plan beforehand for the best buys.
Meal planning before you shop is always a good idea, because it helps you save money. Figure out what you want to buy, but leave some room for a few unplanned purchases, just in case you find a new or unusual vegetable that you would like to try.
Hit up the ATM before you go. Having cash on hand will make it easier to make purchases at farmers’ markets. Don’t expect every vendor to have a mobile credit card reader. Carry small bills and some change to make exchanges go more quickly. Plus, cash can help you with bargaining, as well.
At the market
Go as soon as the market opens if you want to get the best produce. Items like meat and seafood, for instance, sell out very quickly. Going early will also help you avoid the large crowds. However, if you want the best deals, you should go at the end of the day. That’s when vendors are trying to sell off inventory instead of having to pack it up and transport it home.
Bring your own bags. Some, but not all of the vendors will offer a bag, but those bags are usually small and flimsy. Experienced shoppers will bring a backpack or small, wheeled cart to keep their hands free for things like squeezing produce.
Buying in bulk can save you some money. Many vendors are willing to give you a good deal if you’re willing to offload a crate of strawberries rather than just a baggie full, for example. Eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as you are able, and then freeze, dehydrate or can the rest.
There’s usually more than one vendor selling an item. Don’t buy everything from the first booth you see. Shop around. Try samples, if available. Once you’ve made the rounds and weighed your options, you’ll be able to make an informed decision based on price and taste.
Talk to the farmers. They can help you pick out the best items and teach you how to determine ripeness. Discuss how to best prepare their produce, as well. You may find a new recipe that you love.
And finally, stash a cooler in your car if you plan to shop a while or have a long drive home. This will help the produce maintain freshness from the farmers’ market to your kitchen table.