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The Farmer’s Market is the best place to find the freshest produce and often at prices rivaling your local grocery store. Follow these 7 Farmer’s Market Shopping tips and you’ll be a pro in no time!
Over the last few years we have developed a love for farmer’s market shopping. It’s actually become quite the Saturday morning tradition. A quick stop for donuts and milk and we’re on our way. Living in Central Orange County, we are blessed with numerous farmer’s markets to choose from. We have our favorite though, and don’t mind the extra 15 minute drive time to get there. The fruits and vegetables are always the best and the atmosphere is just so much fun. There is live local music, and tons of local artisans selling fresh produce, fresh bread, plants, flowers and even tamales. My kids enjoy tasting new fruits and vegetables, and I love that we are supporting local farmers and merchants.
Over the last few years I have learned some tips that have really saved us time and money, and made the experience a really enjoyable tradition that I hope will be carried on for many years to come. Here are my tips for the best Farmer’s Market shopping experience.
1. Get there early.
I know, it’s Saturday and the last thing you want to do is get up early, but hey, the kids are up anyway right? Around here, most markets open at 9 am, and if you want the best selection of fresh produce, you should be there. But don’t get there early and expect to haggle. If you’re looking for the best deal, skip to number 2.
2. Get there at closing time.
Does that seem a little counter-productive to the first tip? Well if you want the best deals, closing time is your time. Merchants are packing up and just really don’t want to have to pack up what’s left of their produce or product. The more they sell, the less they have to load up, and potentially throw away. Ask for a discount on that big basket of potatoes and they’re much more likely to oblige at closing time.
3. Take your own bags.
We’ve all got reusable bags lying around, or at the very least, plastic grocery bags. This is the perfect time to make use of them. Pick up some reusable bags at your local grocery store or even Target, and take those with you to the Farmer’s Market. They’re easy to carry and easy to fill up with your goodies. Stick a few plastic grocery bags in your reusable totes and use those for filling with your produce instead of using the plastic bags from the merchants. It’s better for the environment, and it saves the farmers a little bit of profit. If you’re planning to buy a lot, take a small basket with you to fill up as you shop. If you do need to use the bags from the merchants, save them to use again next week.
4. Take small bills.
Cash is king at the Farmer’s Market so make sure you not only bring enough, but you have small bills as well. Most vendors will have it, but giving them a twenty dollar bill for your $2 bag of carrots can eat up all of their change. Bigger bills are fine if you’re purchasing a lot at one stand, but keep plenty of small bills handy too. Make sure to have a small wallet or shoulder bag that’s easily accessible for your cash, and not too bulky.
5. Get to know the merchants.
One of my favorite things about the farmer’s market is chatting with the merchants. There are a lot of great stories there, if you just take the time to listen. Smile and say hello. You can also ask them questions about where their produce is grown and if it’s certified organic.
6. Shop around.
Often times the first stands you see have the heftiest prices since most people start in the front and work their way to the back. It’s still the farmer’s market so it’s probably not going to break the bank, but if you’re looking to score a deal, you might consider walking to the last few stands. There are often fewer people, and better prices.
7. Wash everything when you get home.
The produce you’re getting at the farmer’s market is the freshest possible. More often than not it was picked within a day or two and didn’t spend weeks in refrigeration. Because it’s really a “farm to table” business, a little bit of the farm might make it’s way home with you in the form of dirt or sand, or even tiny spiders or other plant loving bugs.
Most of the fruit that I purchase I don’t wash before storing – for example, berries can spoil quickly, as they soak up moisture. Store them in a shallow container in the fridge that’s been lined with paper towels. My kids have small colanders on the counter so they can rinse a serving of berries quickly. Stone fruit can be stored on the counter or in the fridge once ripened. However, the vegetables I usually do wash, and I use various methods depending on the type of produce. If you’re unsure of the proper way to clean and store your produce, do a quick google search.
Always be sure to clean your produce before cooking or eating by rinsing it thoroughly with tap water, even fruits or veggies that you plan on peeling because any bacteria on the peel can be transferred to the fruit when cutting. Commercial produce washes aren’t necessary; water works just as well. Dry your produce thoroughly before bagging or storing.
After a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I usually spend 30 minutes to an hour cleaning, trimming and/or bagging everything. This also ensures that everything is prepped and everything is ready to go when you need it for the week. I like to have things ready to go as much as possible so my kids have healthy snacks available at all times.
If you’ve never shopped a Farmer’s Market, I encourage you to try it out! It’s a great way to support the local economy and it’s a wonderful lesson for your kids. If you’re not sure where to go, do a quick search for local markets in your area, or ask friends. You can also check the USDA’s Farmer’s Market Directory. Locally we have tons of farmer’s markets, on every day of the week and some in the evenings. Check around to see which market fits your needs the best. You may like that the larger markets have a better selection and offer more in the way of atmosphere, or you may prefer a smaller market where you can get to know the growers and maybe even score a better deal.
Do you have any tips for farmer’s market shopping? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for using fresh, Farmer’s Market produce:
Spicy Tomato, Bacon and Asparagus Pasta
Berry & Angel Food Parfaits with Lemon Whipped Cream
Smoked Sausage and Zucchini Skillet
For all recipes, go HERE.
One tip I would add: Don’t go there looking for specific items, since you don’t know in advance what the produce vendors will have, but do keep in mind the number of meals you want to plan. I go in knowing I will need fruits or veggies, say, for 3 days worth of lunches. I also plan on picking up some veggies for salads, and know that I’ll need 3 days worth of veggies for dinners. Plan your recipes around the items that are in season and that look good. For example, if the spinach is picked over, you can go for chard or beets with the greens on them.
One other tip: Take a water bottle with you. Fill it before you head into the market. Those lemonade booths can be a little pricey.
I was introduced to my first Farmer’s Market last fall in Olympia, WA and now I CRAVE fresh food and weekend mornings at my favorite local markets. Still a newbie to the shopping, I appreciated these tips – thanks for sharing!