I attend a local Farmer’s Market at my job every Wednesday. From about 12:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M. vendors and farmer’s are on hand to sell everything from homemade soaps and candles to fresh produce and hot meals. Every week I walk down to that market prepared to make my purchases. Ready to bring home locally grown food to prepare and enjoy, and pat myself on the back for supporting small businesses only to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the amount of people in attendance, the amount of choices I have to make. Feeling the prying eyes of the vendors who seem impatient and want me to buy buy buy. Depending on the day, I may do a quick walk around the market trying not to make eye contact with anyone and go right back up to my office. I may buy a tamale if I’m hungry or sample something if I’ve accidentally caught the eye of some insistent farmer but other than that the whole production is one big anxiety fest.
I know you’re saying it’s a Farmer’s Market calm down, and yes I agree with you, but this is my “thing” and everybody has their “thing”, and what I’ve learned about “things” is that they usually stem from a lack of information, or knowledge. My fear of the Farmer’s Market isn’t the market itself but rather the fact that I have no idea how to navigate it. There is a skill to purchasing those fruits and veggies just like there is a skill to shopping a flea market or a consignment shop. Learning the skill will help you pick from the best that the market has to offer as well as how to best prepare your finds and knowing exactly what the best finds are! Luckily for my Weekender’s I love learning and relaying to you anything that can make your lives easier so I did a little research and I’ve come up with some tips that will assist in making your Farmer’s Market experience enjoyable and fruitful (Oh how I love a good pun to go with my peaches 😉 ).
1.Know What’s in Season
It’s so important to know what grows in your area and the best times of year to purchase these items. Growers are usually really good about letting you know what will be coming to market and what’s in season so just ask. However knowing beforehand will be helpful if a stall is really busy or you don’t have time for the conversation. To celebrate the emergence of fall I’ve created a list of fruits and veggies that are currently in season
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli Raab
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
2. Go Early or Go Late
Timing is everything at the Farmer’s Market. Want to choose from selections that haven’t been picked over and beat the crowd? Get there early. Want to get a great deal from merchants who’d rather get rid of their stock then schlep it back with them? Get there late.
3. Bring Your Own Bag
A lot of times vendors only offer those flimsy plastic bags to pack your newly bought fruits and veggies, so if you’d like to avoid dropping all of that pretty produce I suggest you bring your own bag. Not only will you save yourself a headache but you’ll also contribute to saving the environment. There are a ton of places to get sturdy shopping bags from however my favorite place to go is trader joe’s. They have leak proof bags that hold quite a bit. If you don’t have a trader joe’s near you, head over to your local grocery store they’re sure to have a nice selection of cloth grocery bags to choose from.
4. Come With Cash
Remember you’re working with small business owners here so some merchants will only take cash, and in a lot of cases they don’t carry big bills. So come prepared with enough cash to make purchases and make sure you bring change.
5. Buy in Bulk
Costco isn’t the only place you can buy in bulk, the Farmer’s Market also allows it’s patrons to buy in bulk for good deals. Plus you’ll enjoy the flavors and best prices when you buy lots of whatever is at it harvest peak. So if you go through a few packages of strawberries a week you may want stock up on those. Who knows you may even try canning, freezing and drying your finds for use later on down the line.
6. Ask For Advice
If you find a veggie that’s new to you at the Farmer’s Market and want to give it a try ask the farmer how to prepare it. For best tips you may even want to ask them how they like to eat it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, a lot of times farmers like to talk about their stock. You may even create a ongoing relationship and learn what is currently in season and on sale.
7. Get Interested
Look, people love to talk about what interests them and Farmers Market’s are interesting to begin with, so spend some time chatting up local farmers about how their food is grown, ask them how they like to cook it or about foods you don’t recognize. You can also ask about their growing practices. It take a lot of hard work to be a farmer so get interested in the practice and you’ll learn how to better shop for what you need.
8. Dress Comfortably
This may go without saying but it doesn’t hurt to mention it- dress comfortably. You’ll be walking quite a bit so wear comfy shoes and ladies bring a bag that won’t interfere with your shopping. Fanny packs though hideous were invented for places like the Dress Barn and the Farmer’s Market.
9. Know When To Hold’Um Know When to Fold’Um
Buying fresh produce and getting a bargain is kind of the objective of the Farmer’s Market however you’ve got to know when it’s proper to haggle. You don’t want to bargain for small amounts of produce but rather greater amounts. It’s an insult to haggle with workers who have worked very hard to provide fresh produce by underwriting their price. So save your masters of persuasion for those items that are more expensive and come in larger amounts.
10. Take Your Time
Walk around, check out each stall, talk to the grocers, ask questions. This all takes time, so make sure you’re not too quick on the draw when you make your purchases. A lot of vendors are in competition with one another so you may find that while 2 vendors may be carrying the same product one may have it at a lower price. I’ve seen vendors offer samples of products as well so have a good time tasting what they have on hand. Plus the Farmer’s Market is an experience in itself so enjoy it!
11. Organic Isn’t Everything
While organic is the new black, try not to ignore non organic owners. In some locals, organic certification can get expensive and can be too bureaucratic for small scale farmers to deal with. If you’d like to know what chemicals are used just ask, you may also find low spray products are better priced.
12. Buy the Ugly Stuff
You can reduce your costs even further by purchasing #2 fruits and veggies. #2 means the appearance may be marred but not the quality. Cases of #2 produce can be disconnected by as much as 50% so take the time to look at the #2 produce, however know that some farmers have been known to pass off moldy peaches or maggot filled sour cherries as #2 fruit so be careful when purchasing.
The Farmer’s Market really is a great experience, the rewards for both customer and vendor are limitless. I hope these tips helped and if you have any you’d like to impart please feel free you know I love hearing from you 🙂 Until next time remember to, keep the party goin!