A summer tradition of mine is visiting the local farmers market on Saturday mornings. I have fond memories of tasting strawberries and local honey with my brother and sister while my parents shopped for produce for the week. Dad would pick up a bag of fresh doughnuts to share and Mom would often make a pie or cobbler with her findings.
I still love the farmers market, and have even recently gotten more involved with the one in my little town. I love the community surrounding farmers markets. You can actually meet and talk to the farmers who grow the food you buy. It’s a Saturday morning tradition I want to carry on for the rest of my life — unless I really want to sleep in!
Since I’ve been doing it forever, I thought I’d share a few of my farmers market shopping tips with you.
Click below for some tips on farmers market shopping.
1. Learn what’s in season.
Food changes based on the season, and it’s slightly different all over the country. Harsh winters and summers will change the crop yield, so you can’t expect the same stuff every week. Sometimes, produce is only available for one or two weeks and then it’s gone. Once you know what’s growing, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect at the market. Be warned: If you spot items that aren’t in season, they could be genetically modified or imported from another country or state.
2. Make a list.
Lists always keep me from forgetting something I need at the store, so why wouldn’t the market be any different? Plan out your meals and figure out what you’ll need to look for at the different stalls. Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, write down something like “toppings for taco night” so you don’t forget to get a few options. If you’re not a paper person anymore, AnyList is my favorite shopping list app.
If lists drive you crazy, skip them. Buy ingredients at the market, then find recipes for them.
3. Bring cash and bags.
Hit up the ATM before you get there. Most stalls don’t take credit cards, so cash is the way to go. The vendors usually welcome small bills and change.
They’ll also love it if you bring your own shopping bags. If you have a surplus of plastic or paper bags at home, consider donating them to a vendor who can reuse them. I recommend taking a cooler bag — in case you pick up some frozen foods or meat — and a few sturdy totes. (I love these ones from Baggu.)
4. Get there early.
Hot items like strawberries and peaches will go quickly, so getting there before the crowd will ensure you’ll find enough of what you need. Plus, finding a good parking spot is always a win. If you don’t like crowds, find a market that has mid-week hours, but you’ll find a better selection on the weekends.
5. Start a conversation.
Ask the vendors questions about their products. When was the corn picked? How does this tomato taste compared to this kind? What can you make with rhubarb? What kinds of chemicals do you you use? Exactly how free-range are your free-range chickens? They know their food better than anyone, and they will likely enjoy telling you about it.
Asking questions is how you learn and how you start conversations. You can build a rapport with them and they’ll learn to expect you week after week, summer after summer. They might even save you a basket of peaches if you’re running late or invite you to try something new.
6. Be spontaneous.
Leave room in your list for a little whim. Pick up a surprise item you weren’t planning on buying. Purchase items you’ve never heard of. Taste the vendors’ samples. Splurge on a bouquet of flowers. Bring home blueberries that show up earlier than you expected. The markets are different each week, and they are a surefire way to learn about the food produced in your area. This is all part of the fun of farmers markets. Be spontaneous and you’ll get the most out of your market. // susannah
What are your farmers market shopping tips?