Local Love: 10 Tips for the Farmers Market
10 Tips to Take To Your Local Farmer's Market
(Eat Healthier and Save Money)
Do you want to eat healthier and support local agriculture, but feel discouraged because the prices for locally-grown food products are just too high? Do you ever wish that organic food was within a normal person's budget? You might be amazed to know that your local farmers' market can not only provide you with the fines, freshest, healthiest foods available, but that these seasonal delights can be yours at prices cheaper than those at your local Wal-Mart! This may seem crazy to you, but if you follow these simple steps, you'll go bananas over what you find at the market!
Whenever people ask me where I shop for food, I will always point them to a farmers' market. It is seriously the best place to get the fantastic organic foods and you don't have to break the bank. Farmers' markets are more than a trendy social scene to hit on the weekend. They are a part of our lives and create our community. As they become more popular, the visibility of local food vendors and food choices increase and Lord knows we all love to have choices! Depending on what part of the country you live in, farmer's markets can run year-round or occur seasonally. For the most part, they pop up in the spring and summer time. In Utah, we are lucky to have a community that supports and drives not only our summer market, but a winter market as well.
I hope with these tips you'll be able to step up your food shopping sills while saving money on the best foods of the season!
Research and locate both your nearest farmer's market and other nearby markets.
In order to get screaming deals at the farmer's market, you first need to find it. Generally, farmers' markets run from early spring to late fall, but depending on where you live, your local market may be open a shorter time period or may be open year-round. There are several markets in our area, visit all of them to find the best selection and best deals. Visit Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass to plan your visits right and check out Farmers Markets around the country.
Don't Be Shy.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of farmers. Just spend a few minutes chatting it up at your local market and you will be too. It takes tremendous dedication to both science and art to turn out beautiful produce on a small farm, and the time you spend asking about the results of that dedication can be both useful and create an infectuius enthusiasm. A huge benefit of farmer's markets is your ability to look the farmer in the eye and ask anything you want about how the food was grown. That's a rare opportunity in our supermarket culture. So go for it! Ask about a food you don't recognize, how to cook it, and whether it's comin in or heading out of season. Fidn out what the farmer expects to bring to the market next week so you can start to plan ahead. Learn all you can about the farmer's growing practices and make sure you know who you're buying from.
Find Out Why It Isn't Organic.
The fact that produce is not labeled organic doesn't necessarily mean it's swimming in pesticides or is a qualified member of the Dirty Dozen. Sometimes it's quite the opposite. Some of the best farms, where a single farmer can lovingly attend to every seedling are hardly bigger than a postage stamp. A farm that size can't afford a refrigerated truck, never mind a costly (and Questionably Bullet-Proof Certification by the USDA. Many farms use organic practices, often much more stringent than those required by the government, but simply don't get certified. If a farm doesn't label their produce organic, it pays to ask why.
You may discover a hidden source or organically farmed food, and if not, you'll be showing farmers that you care about how your food is grown. Over time, demand will create supply.
Bring Your Own Bag, and Maybe a Cooler.
Sure, that reusable canvas tote is good for the earth and of course your hippie-chic style. And you should totally bring it along for those reasons. As a bonus, you're also being kind to the farmers by not cutting into their already slim profit margins. You are also being kind to yourself, because those el cheapo plastic bags are no way to carry a baby watermelon and a dozen ears of corn in one hand. But I have to admit that my primary reason for bringing my own bags is that I truly believe it is a key to getting better treatment without saying a word. It is a visible gesture of goodwill toward the farmers, and it is valuable social capital. If your market sells eggs, cheese, milk, meat, or fish, bring a cooler. There is nothing worse than passing up a dozen beautiful freshly lain eggs, or fresh mozzarella because you are not prepared to bring them home.
If It's Your First Time.
When buying veggies, start small. Buying in bulk can be overwhelming. Besides, you can go back if you need to another day. Utah is amazing in the summer because you can find a market every day of the week! Purchase vegetables you already know how to prepare. With more and more practice you'll gain confidence to add new items to your shopping list. Search for staples you normally buy at the supermarket like eggs, flour, coffee, fish, nuts, honey and even soap for better quality.
Shop Early for Selection, Shop Late or in Bad Weather for Deals.
The season's first strawberries and finest peaches will disappear within the first hour that the market is open, so if you've got your heart set on something in particular, it pays to wake up early. This is especially true if your market caters to restaurants as well as civilians, since chefs will be there first thing and won't always leave a lot of the rest of us. If you're a late riser looking for an excuse, or if you'd rather get a great deal at the possible expense of selection, do your shopping in the last hour of the market. Farmers without other distribution channels will often offer steep discounts at the end of the day to avoid driving back to the farm with a hard-earned truckload of compost. And if you can motivate on especially cold or rainy days, you'll get good prices while helping to keep your market thriving.
Bring Small Bills.
Most farmer's markets are cash-only operations, and most farmers do all their daily dealings from a little cash box. It helps a lot and improves your karma if you pay in the smallest bills you've got.
The ugly duckling makes a great confit and can often be bought for a song. Lots of shoppers, used to waxed, painted supermarket fruits bred for their uniform looks will head straight for the most attractive produce at the farmer's market. But the oddest-looking can be the best-tasting and they'll often cost less too. Ask around for unique heirloom vegetable varieties.
Buy in Quantity.
You'll also get a great deal if you buy in bulk. Even if you're no the canning type, why not buy a whole box of plum tomatoes instead of just a pint? Toss in five pounds of onions and a couple of bunches of basil and make a big batch of sauce to freeze. It hardly takes any longer tan making a dinner's worth, and you'll than yourself many a late-working evening. Or you can share it with friends or family. Once you get home you can split it up and you enjoy the bounty and the savings!
Try Something New Each Week.
A benefit of farmer's markets as compared to CSAs is the increased ability to stay within your comfort zone if you want to . But why not try one new food each time you visit? At best, maybe you'll discover a new love. At worst, you'll be making a contribution to (or in the spirit of) amazing local organizations and events like Slow Food Utah and Eat Local Week Challenge
When buying produce, taste test. How else will you know if you'll like a new food or not? Vendors are more than happy to let you sample their foods.
When buying animal products like meats, eggs, and cheese ask the producer: How were the animals raised (cages or free-range)? What were they fed? Did the feed contain added hormones or antibiotics? How were the animal meats processed? Ask cheese vendors how they're cheeses are made. Many local cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk so all the good enzymes are still intact.
Bring your kids and let them pick the foods they want to eat for the week. When kids choose the foods, they are more inclined to eat it. It gives them healthy choices and a sense of empowerment.
And when you get home with your haul, don't forget to make use of these tasty 10 tips for making the most of your seasonal abundance.
Now it is your turn! I would love to hear your best tips, tricks, and all-around love for farmer's markets in the comments below!