Just like sweet corn on the cob, juicy watermelon, and fresh tomatoes farmers markets are a summertime staple. I love shopping at our local farmers market. I can buy super fresh produce while enjoying beautiful weather. I feel inspired by new ingredients and have an opportunity to learn some cooking tips by talking with the farmers. I can also feel great about supporting my local economy.
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But when I first started going I remember feeling a little intimidated. I am not a naturally social person especially when surrounded by people I don’t know. Here are some tips to help you feel more comfortable and make the most of your next trip to the farmers market.
1. Shop early
If you want to avoid the crowds and have the best selection, go when the market first opens.
2. Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen
You might also want to wear a hat and bring a water bottle. Farmers markets are most common during the summer when the growing season is at its peak. It can be very hot and there can be a lot of walking.
3. Know what produce is in season
One of my favorite things about shopping at my local farmers market is how fresh all of the produce is. That’s because most of the time what you are buying was picked right before it was brought to the market. But because all of the produce is grown locally you won’t find tomatoes in the winter. Keep an open mind. Items available at a farmers market will vary from week to week.
4. Come prepared
- If you know you will be purchasing a lot of food consider bringing your own folding shopping cart, I bought one while we were living in Chicago which Tom affectionately nicknamed my “Granny Cart.”
- Bring your own reusable bags.
- Bring small bills so that the farmers don’t have to make change for larger bills especially if you will be going early in the day.
- If you won’t be going straight home, bring a cooler with you so your items won’t spoil in a hot car.
5. Leave your dog at home
Many farmers markets don’t allow dogs due to health and safety laws. I will admit that my farmers market does allow dogs and I have brought mine a time or two. But having him there made it more difficult to shop and talk with the farmers because I was always worried about making sure he was on his best behavior.
6. Set a budget
If you tend to overspend, bring only the amount of money you wish to spend with you. I know how easy it is to get carried away when you are surrounded by delicious food.
7. Take a quick stroll around the market
When you first get to the market circle by all of the booths first noting prices. Nothing is worse than buying a pint of strawberries only to see it for a dollar cheaper two booths down.
8. Respect the produce
If your not sure how ripe something is don’t squeeze it you will cause bruising. Produce at a farmers market is selectively picked at its prime. You can safely assume that if it’s not already ripe, it will be within the next day or two. You can also smell fruit near the stem end. Unripe fruit will have little to no aroma, ripe fruit will smell sweet, If you are still unsure just ask the farmer. Which brings me to my next tip.
9. Talk with the farmers and staff
One of the best benefits of shopping at a farmers market is being able to talk with the people who grew or raised each item. Of course, be respectful of the fact that they are working, but many of the farmers are very passionate about what they do and most of them will be more than happy to talk with you. They will often have preparation or storage tips and can even share new recipes.
Last week I bought a jar of homemade pear jam. I started talking with the farmer about the different jams he was selling and he told me his favorite thing to do with them was to use them as a glaze when he smoked meat. I never would have thought to try that.
Report back to farmers how delicious an item was and how you used it. This will help to build your relationship with them. A good friend of mine frequently shares baked goods with the farmers at her local CSA that she makes using the produce they sold her the previous week.
11. Understand how to use whole vegetables
Often vegetables will be sold untrimmed with the greens still attached. Items typically last longer this way, but more importantly, the greens are edible. They can be used to make a delicious pesto or served simply sauteed in a little olive oil with some fresh garlic, salt, and pepper.
12. Shop late
If you want the best deals, shop just before the market closes. Many of the items are perishable and anything not sold the farmers will have to pack up and take with them. For this reason, many farmers are willing to make deals at the end of the day. However, understand that farmers grow and raise this food to make a living. So don’t expect or ask for too deep of a discount.
Once you bring your farmers market bounty home check out my post on food storage to make sure your items stay fresh as long as possible.
What other tips do you have for shopping at farmers markets?
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