Ever worry you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself at your local farmers’ market? More comfortable at the traditional grocery stores you’ve shopped at since childhood? Don’t worry. The farmers’ market may not be your mother’s supermarket, but with a few easy tips you can not only survive but thrive on your next visit.
1. Start early. Because it’s truly a “farmers’ market,” you’ll be getting your food straight from the farmers who grew it. Unlike a supermarket, these farmers won’t source goods from all over the world, in all seasons, to be sure you get your share, morning, noon or night. If it's early or late in the growing season for a particular fruit or vegetable, or if a farmer only grows a limited amount, you may need to be the first one there, or miss out on your favorite food. The early bird gets the worm.
Besides, there's something about a farmers’ market on a summer morning. A supermarket looks, sounds and smells the same all day long, but the farmer’s market will never be the same after the sun rolls overhead.
2. Embrace the season. One of the best things about farmers’ markets is that they offer local produce. These fruits and vegetables reach your plate just hours after they’re picked, so farmers can let them ripen fully on the vine before harvest. (Most fruit today is picked prematurely, then ripens on a truck or ship as it travels across the country.) Produce that ripens on the vine (rather than a truck) tastes much better and is more nutritious.
But buying local means you can only find a fruit or vegetable when it's in season where you live! So be sure to plan your menus, and your shopping excursions, around which fruits and veggies are in season in your neck of the woods on a given week. Here's a great guide to seasonal fruits and vegetables.
3. Get in the sustainable spirit. Show up at the market with your own reusable shopping bag. (You can find canvas or nylon shopping bags online or in many grocery stores today.) Not only will you spare the environment a few more plastic bags; you'll feel like a true farmers’ market insider.
4. Get to know your farmers. Go up and chat. Some farmers there may be too small to afford organic certification, but nonetheless grow their produce without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Of course, you’ll have to take their word for it, but if organic food doesn't fit into your budget, this may be a way to get something similar, for less. Farmers can also tell you when they’ll have your favorite fruits and vegetables that are coming into season, and even set some aside for you in the weeks to come.
5. Keep an open mind. Though it's good to go in with a shopping list, don't be afraid to try new things. You may see something you didn't expect to be in season, something you've never tried but a farmer raves about, or something that just catches your eye and looks irresistible. Maybe the next time you'll add it to your list.
And don't be afraid to buy more of something than you'd initially planned. Some of the best deals at farmers’ markets come when you buy in bulk. If you can pickle it or make preserves from it, you can keep any extras on hand for the off-season. Finding the right recipes can also help you work through an unplanned surplus of your favorite produce. If you can be clever about making use of bulk quantities, you can often take home the best deals.
So go ahead and scout out the farmers’ market near you. You just might love the food you bring home, the people you meet, and the outdoor shopping experience only your local farmers’ market can provide.