In the Pacific Northwest, the arrival of spring is marked by two events: the sudden burst of cotton candy-colored cherry blossoms and the appearance of outdoor farmers’ markets. Whether you’re a diehard supporter of your local market (by this point, your favorite vendors know you by name) or you’re thinking about visiting one for the first time, we have all the tips you need to navigate the farmers’ market like a pro!
Why shop at farmers’ markets?
Shopping at farmers’ markets is, first and foremost, a fantastic way to support your local economy. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, vendors can potentially earn upward of 90 cents on the dollar for their wares due to the fact that their processing, marketing, and distribution costs are much lower or completely absent (this is compared to an average of 15.6 cents per dollar that farmers earn from food sold in supermarkets). Choosing to shop at farmers’ markets is also a great way to enjoy the best of what’s currently in season, often at a lower price than you’ll find in grocery stores.
Get to know your local vendors.
Getting to know your favorite vendors is also a major perk to shopping at a farmers’ market. Think of these people as experts: Not only do they grow, harvest, and prepare the food themselves, they’ll also know exactly what to recommend based on your tastes or what’s at the peak of its growing season.
Many vendors are more than happy to offer a sample of their wares, just be mindful of proper farmers’ market etiquette and avoid helping yourself without asking. If the stall is busy, try not to hover or engage the farmers in prolonged conversation; they still have a job to do!
To haggle or not to haggle?
If you like to haggle it’s definitely best to do so toward closing time as it’s the time of day when vendors are more likely to sell leftover goods at lower prices. Keep in mind that farmers aren’t required to haggle (after all, this is how they make their livelihood) and never attempt to barter if the vendor is busy with other customers. Again, the better you know the farmer, the better your chances are of getting a good deal on those leftover heirloom tomatoes when the market is about to close for the day.
Cutting Costs: How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck
Fresh produce is almost always cheaper when it’s at the height of its season and farmers will sometimes sell overstock at a reduced price. Fruits and vegetables that are deemed “unattractive” may also be discounted and once they’ve been cut up no one will know the difference (all they’ll be able to taste is perfectly ripe produce). Baked goods, prepared foods, meat, fish, and alcohol can be on the pricey side, so stick to the basics if you’re shopping on a budget.
Is the produce at farmers’ markets organic?
If you regularly shop for organic produce and this is an important factor for you, make sure to check with someone at each stall to see if what they’re selling has been certified organic by the USDA. It’s important to consider the fact that organic certification can be incredibly costly for farmers and many of them essentially grow their produce organically but aren’t able to afford the actual certification. Although they might not be certified, chances are that produce bought from a farmers’ market is locally grown with care and attention to soil, growing methods, and heirloom varietals.
What to Bring to the Farmers’ Market
Shopping at farmers’ markets is a very different experience than shopping at a grocery store and can be very enjoyable if you’re prepared. Make sure you bring reusable bags or a basket. A small carry-cart on wheels is super helpful if you’re planning on buying a week’s worth of food. Recycled jars and other containers are environmentally friendly and can also be helpful if you’re shopping for bulk goods.
Don’t assume that vendors will take credit cards (although some do). Bring cash instead (this can also be helpful if you’re trying to stay within a certain budget). Finally, give yourself plenty of time to look around before you begin buying; you’ll have an easier time refining your shopping list and finding the best bargains.