If getting the freshest produce is your goal when visiting the farmer's market, then going early is best. Most farmer's markets open at 8 a.m. (some even earlier) so arriving as soon as the stalls open will guarantee you get first choice. Also, you will probably avoid the major crowds. When the market is less crowded you will have more time to stroll through the stalls and ask questions from the purveyors. Especially if you are unfamiliar with their produce, asking questions is a must.
On the other hand, if you still want fresh produce but are a little more price conscience, going towards the end of the day will usually offer the best deals. Many vendors will cut prices to avoid going home with inventory. The choices may be a little more picked over, but you are still getting top notch produce, so don't fret over getting the bottom of the barrel.
Farmers love to talk about what they spend their days doing, so ask lots of questions about their selections. If you are unfamiliar with a product, simply ask what it is and how to prepare it. You won't know if you don't ask. Otherwise, you can always take one of the classes below to get even more in-depth info about what you are buying and eating.
One major rule of shopping a farmers market is to never, ever go with a recipe. Chances are you will not find what you are looking for, but you will find lots of other things. The best way to shop at a farmers market is to go with an open mind (and stomach) and browse around for ingredients. Start by choosing a main ingredient, then build your dish around that. You can literally build a meal from start to finish (including beverages) from the farmers market so keep an open mind and, again, ask lots of questions. Some farmers may even have recipe cards available with ideas for what to do with their products.
If you are unfamiliar with a product, ask for a taste test. In fact, many farmers will already have samples ready, especially for raw products like meat and fish. Also, taste testing will allow you to build a better recipe because you can determine the sweet or sour flavors of a fruit or vegetable. Different farms and different times of year will provide different flavors for similar produce, so you will want to know the taste to create a delicious meal.
Some markets offer kid's cooking classes, which is a great way to get the whole family cooking. Bring your kids to the market when you can and let them taste, smell, and see the variety of fresh and local produce available. Letting your kids help design the meal is also a great way to change the palette of a picky eater.
Here are a few links to farmers markets around the country that offer cooking classes -- some with notable chefs. These few are just to whet your appetite, so search around in your area for tasty cooking classes and demos.
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