Frequenting farmers’ markets is not only a fun way to pick up your fruits and vegetables, it is a vital way to support your local farmers and economy. Whether you have many farmers’ markets in your area or your local farmers’ market is particularly large, shopping these fresh-picked food meccas can be overwhelming. To help you get the most from your farmers’ market visits, here are 10 farmers’ market shopping tips.
1. Find the nearest farmers’ market
Visit http://www.localharvest.com to locate farmers’ markets in your area. Simply type in your zip code and every market in your area will be listed. You can even type in a specific product, such as “apples,” and a listing of the markets that are selling that item will come up.
2. Research your farmers’ market
Many farmers’ markets have websites that allow you to do your research on the farmers and the foods before you head out. Farmers’ market maps can help you determine which stands you want to be sure to visit; although, there is certainly something to be said about simply spending a day browsing the entire market and talking to the merchants.
3. Arrive early
Arriving at the market early will ensure you get the best products of the day. However, if you are looking for a bargain, go to the market towards the end of the day because most vendors will discount the food items that are left.
4. Cash is King
Be sure to take plenty of cash, since most farmers’ markets merchants only accept cash. Smaller bills will be best for quick and simple transactions.
5. Make conversation
The best way to learn about the foods you are buying is to speak with the people who grow, produce or raise them. Don’t fear asking questions about a farmer’s growing policies or eco-friendly philosophy and practices. They will likely be happy to answer; after all, they are offering their wares at a farmers’ market. Also, ask the vendors for cooking tips or recipe ideas for their particular fruit, vegetable, herb or other food.
6. Taste before purchase
Many vendors will have samples available, which will let you taste the ripeness of produce (particularly important with fruit) or the flavor of specialty products, such as cheeses, preserves or baked goods. If no samples are readily available, ask for one. Merchants will more than likely be happy to give you a taste, especially if it will help you make a purchasing decision.
7. Know your Seasonal Produce
Most fresh produce at farmers’ markets are grown locally and in season. However, you may want to do a little research about the fruits and vegetables grown in your area. Visit http://www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles/default.asp to get a list of the seasonal produce for your state.
8. Experiment with Something New
A farmers’ market is a great place to try new items, from produce to artisan products. Most times you can purchase one or many of a certain fruit or vegetable, meaning you can buy a small amount to try out.
9. Not Just for Produce
Most farmers’ markets have expanded beyond just fruit and vegetables to include locally-sourced meat, poultry, dairy, pickled items, preserves, baked goods, honey, beverages and even soaps. The bonus of buying items like these at the market is that they will most likely be handmade with great care and you can ask about the production practices or ingredients for each product.
10. Browse at your leisure
Going to the farmers’ market with a game plan is a good idea because it will help you efficiently navigate the market and get your goods, but a perfect Sunday afternoon activity can be wandering the market casually talking with people and taking your time tasting the foods.