7 Tips for Maximizing Your Farmer’s Market Experience

The farmer's market is one of the best ways to capture the real flavor of your community. Get there early, strike up conversations with farmers, shoppers and know a fraud when you see one.

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If you care about eating locally, the farmer’s market is among your best assets. It’s also a great way of getting acquainted with the community in which you live. Meeting the locals is as easy as striking up a conversation with area farmers. Plus, you can discover the local delicacies that your friends and family may not know about and share at your next dinner party. The more time you spend at the farmer’s markets, the better you learn the tricks of the trade. Here are some tips to shopping like a pro at your local farmer’s market.

Ditch the list.

A farmer’s market experience is in many ways is the opposite of a grocery store experience. Instead of making a list ahead of time and forcing yourself to stick to the list, when you go to your local farmer’s market, it’s much more exciting to go with what’s in season and adapt your needs to what’s in season and available. You may cook broccolini instead of summer squash as a side or use sweet potatoes instead of zucchini in your stir fry. But by choosing what’s in season, you’re sure to get the best bang for your buck and the most delicious eats.

Go early.

The earlier you hit the farmer’s market, the more options you have to choose from, because hot, seasonal items sell out early. You’ll also get to sample and choose from the best looking produce. For example, if you want peak season Persian mulberries from my local farmer’s market, you’d better get there before 9 am or they’re likely to be sold out (some farmers keep them hidden under the table for special customers, so it pays to get to know your farmers and what they sell during the year!). Getting to the market earlier allows you avoid the crowds too. By 10am you’ll be dodging a hundred baby strollers. In the summer time, as the weather warms up the freshly picked produce begins to wilt. The bottom line is wake up, grab a cup o’Joe, and head to the market.

Bring small bills.

Don’t be the dude that asks a struggling local farmer for change for a 50 dollar bill, it’s poor form. What’s more, if you bring a bunch of cash you’re likely to overspend. Budget how much you can spend on your trip and take that much cash. And make sure you have small bills for the various small ticket items.

Establish relationships.

Getting to know your local farmers and establishing relationships is a great way to get to know your local community. It also allows you to get to really know the source of your food and how to make your dollar go further. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask farmers questions. This is their lively hood and a good farmer or producer is proud of the work they do. In fact the good ones are thrilled to answer questions because they love what they do and want to share their passion and fruits of their labor with their customers. Ask about the use of pesticides if something is not listed as organic. Ask how to pick the best fruit or veggie you’re eyeing. Ask about animal welfare practices. Or simply ask how to prepare what you’re about to buy. Some of my best and simplest recipes have come from farmers!

Bring your own bags.

Plastic bags have been outlawed at my local markets, so I have to bring my own bags, but I know they haven’t been outlawed everywhere around the country. But in terms of sustainability and reducing your impact it’s always best to bring your own reusable bags. If you care about buying local, you likely also care about those worthless single-use plastic bags cluttering up landfills and littering our streets and oceans (which poison wildlife too).

Tip: Make sure that after you empty the local loot you throw your bags into the wash so they don’t gather bacteria and make you sick.

Certified organic or not?

If buying organic is important to you, look for certified organic farmers or even sections of a farmers market where all the vendors are certified organic. At my local market there is a whole section dedicated to certified organic farmers which makes it easy to shop only those farmers. However having said that, getting the certified organic label can be tough for many farmers. It’s expensive and can take up to four years to get. There are many local farmers who aren’t certified organic but don’t use toxic synthetic pesticides. It’s important to support those farmers too. If you aren’t confident if a farmer who is not certified organic grows their produce without the use of toxic chemicals, do some research online and find out exactly how their food is grown.

Be wary of frauds.

I hate to say it but not everyone at the farmer’s market is completely honest, though most are. If a vendor has fruits and vegetables that are obviously out of season or obviously not local, they’re probably trying to pull a fast one. Know the basics of what’s in season in your geographic location before you go so you don’t get fooled. If you’re not sure, ask the farmer whether they grew everything they’re selling. And no, that pineapple didn’t grow in Los Angeles.

The farmer’s market is a fantastic way to learn about local foods, discover new recipes and get to know your community. And if you know what you’re doing, you can purchase the best in local eats at a great price.

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