10 Tips for Shopping your Farmers Market

Visiting your local farmers' market is a great way to source the freshest food available, meet your farmers and neighbors, and enjoy a great community event. Here are 10 tips to make your trip more successful!

1. Know your seasons

Learn what grows in your area when and talk to the growers about what will be coming to market in upcoming weeks. This will help you plan for the strawberries in June and avoid disappointment when there's no sweet corn in May. Reference this chart to get an idea of what to expect in our region.

2. Know your produce

The produce at a farmers market is probably going to look a little different than at a grocery store. Learn how to pick out the tastiest heirloom tomato. Learn to scour the bins of Brussels sprouts for the tightest, smallest ones. Learn to snap a green bean between your fingers to see if it’s ripe. Learn to smell a melon. Not sure where to start? The farmers themselves will usually be happy to pick out good produce for you and help you learn. 

3. Try weird stuff!

Your market is likely home to products you can’t find at the grocery store. So why not try them out? Instead of a standard deep purple eggplant, why not a tiny globular Thai or a long pure white eggplant? Instead of red radishes, why not watermelon or French breakfast radishes? Instead of beef, why not bison? There’s nothing wrong with just getting good, fresh versions of what you usually eat, but the market is also an opportunity to step outside your habits and eat what’s growing nearby.

4. Embrace whole vegetables

Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radishes are sometimes sold both whole, with greens attached, and trimmed, as merely a bunch of roots. Always opt for the whole version. They’ll last longer than the trimmed roots, for one thing, but more importantly, the greens are both edible and delicious. Washed carefully, they all make great, earthy pesto, and radish and beet greens can be prepared the same way as chard or kale. Free bonus food!

5. Go early

Vendors will often sell out of their best products by the end of the market. If you want your pick of the produce, come in the first hour to get first dibs on the early strawberries, first tomatoes, or biggest ears of corn. 

6. Bring your own bags

Nearly all vendors will provide you with a bag for your goodies, but they will be plastic bags with thin handles or paper bags without handles. Make sure all purchases make it safely home by bringing a sturdy reusable bag from home. If you anticipate a large purchase, bring your kid's wagon or a cart on wheels.

7. Bring small bills

Vendors will make change, but it is helpful and faster if you can provide exact or close to exact change. You can check a market's website ahead of time or ask at the information booth to see if they accept other forms of payment like credit cards or EBT cards

8. Ask questions

Talking to the farmers and booth workers is one of the huge benefits of the market. While being respectful of the fact that they're working, of course, you might ask where the farm is located, what sort of practices they use, etc. Many farmers are excited to talk about what they do.

If you find a vegetable that’s new to you at the farmers market and want to give it a try, ask the farmer how to prepare it. For the best tips specifically ask how they like to eat it. If organic certification is important to you, ask about it.

9. Offer to volunteer

If you are interested in supporting your favorite farmer (and have some extra time on market day), offer to volunteer! You will learn even more about how your food is grown or produced and you will probably go home with some delicious produce (or meat or cheese or plant starts) for your trouble. Farmers markets need all kinds of skill sets to run a smooth market, so don't be afraid to offer up what you're good at!

10. Give feedback

Report back to farmers on how delicious or useful their produce was! If you really enjoyed that heirloom tomato, or that new cucumber variety was a hit at the family party, let your farmer know. In this age, you can likely share a photo through social media with the farmer or the farmers' market. 

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