Are you visiting your local farmers' market yet? For those of us in the South, we are fortunate to have long growing seasons and an abundance of crops in full swing by the time June rolls around. You can find farmers' markets near you by checking out Local Harvest and entering your location.
There are 23 markets near where I live, and it’s my goal to visit all 23 before the season ends. I have a great start, so I think I can fit them all in before winter creeps in again. Of course, with the farm and our own gardens, I may have to invite you all over to help me preserve some of what I purchase!
The pictures here are from last weekend’s visit to the Atlanta Farmers' Market. This is not your ordinary produce market. It is considered one of the largest markets of its kind in the world and spans 150 acres with produce, a 26,000-foot exhibit hall, a garden center and even a restaurant. AFM is also home to the federal-state office for the USDA. Of course, because it is so large, you can drive around if you need to, but if you’re able to walk and shop, I highly recommend it! I love browsing, selecting, chatting with the growers and then trekking back to the car (multiple times, much to Mr. Dreamy’s dismay) with the goods. It is the ultimate in healthy experiences for me – shopping for locally grown produce and getting in some physical activity at the same time – score!
Of course, the other 22 markets I’ll be making my way to this season aren’t that large. In fact, some are so small they would fit nicely in a parking lot. But that’s OK, too, because those smaller markets are where some of the best organic and artisan products are found.
Either way, large or small, I have some tips to share for making the most of your farmers' market visits this season. If you have great tips to share, be sure to leave a comment below and let me in on your strategies, too!
How to Make the Most of Your Farmers' Market Visit
1. Know the growing seasons in your area.
Eating in season is always best, so know the growing seasons where you live before heading to the farmers' market. This way, you ‘re sure to shop for premium in-season fruits and vegetables. If you’re not sure what is in season where you live, talk to the vendors at the farmers' market for a rundown of what they grow and when it will be available.
One of my favorite summer farmers' market finds in Georgia is true Vidalia onions. If you’ve had one, you know it and every onion since was subpar. If you haven’t tasted a real Vidalia, you’re missing out! These are the sweetest onions on the planet. If ever in Georgia, this is your must-have souvenir.
2. Time your visit to suit your needs.
If you want fresh and first, be there when the market opens. If you’re shopping more for price, visit later in the day, near closing time when many growers are more willing to negotiate. And if you’re like me and you’re going to talk the vendors’ ears off, by all means, do not go at peak time. You’ll just annoy them. Trust me, I know.
3. Browse before you buy.
Regardless of when you go, always walk around and take a look at what is being offered by vendors. Many will offer the same or similar fruits and veggies, but you may find one vendor’s produce more favorable on quality and/or price. At large markets like the Atlanta Farmers' Market, with so many goodies to check out, a look around first definitely pays off!
4. Be ready to take advantage of a great buy.
You never know what amazing deal you may find at the farmers' market, so go prepared to take advantage of a great buy. Take along a chest cooler with frozen ice blocks for storing larger quantities of produce and delicate items like leafy greens, remember to bring bags for shopping (this saves on plastic bags vendors may be offering to hold your purchases) and have a few hand towels and some antibacterial wet wipes just in case. While some produce is cleaned up before displaying, some is “fresh from the farm” and may still have some soil on it. For example, you may find bunches of beets with greens and a bit of soil intact. This is terrific in terms of freshness, but you may want to tidy up a bit after handling your haul.
My most recent “great buy” was a bundle of these cute baby mangoes. At two pounds for $1, this was a steal. Because baby mangoes are much sweeter than their “grown-up” counterparts, I knew they would be perfect for homemade mango jam (for topping delicious things like homemade gluten-free bread). Now, I’m hungry.
5. Ask questions.
Who knows best about what you’ll find at the farmers' market than the growers? Talk to them and ask if you’re not sure about what something is, or about how to use a particular fruit or vegetable. You just never know what you’ll find, or who you’ll meet. Check out these chayote squash with thorns… now that’s a find and a knowledgeable farmer can tell you exactly how to handle these beauties without a single prick!
If you visit a large market like AFM, you’ll find all sorts of non-local produce, too, like cactus leaves, aloe stalks, avocados, citrus and even those tiny mangoes I purchased. I may have bought some of all of the above. I also came away with great local melons, Macon-grown butter beans, tomatoes and so much more!
What are your favorite farmers' market finds where you live?
Post originally appeared on GlutenFreeGigi.com.