Farmer's markets have the best intentions. If you're fortunate enough to live in a town that has one, they're probably one of the most accessible and affordable ways to get local, organic produce. But with such a large selection of harvested goods spread amongst aisles and aisles of booths, farmer's markets can be intimidating and a total bust if you don't come at least a little bit prepared. I'm by no means a master of the market and can't say I've completely conquered one yet, but I have learned some tips & tricks since moving in down the street from one in San Diego.
- Big bag and/or reusable shopping bags
- A list (If you're a list maker)
I'm not a planner, so as much as I just want to show up with my coffee and cash and hope for the best, I've learned that it's important to do some quick research beforehand. First, find out when the thing opens and closes. I seem to have the best luck when I go either right at open or just before close. This past weekend we showed up an hour before close and vendors were extra eager to sell their remaining goods. We scored a few extra pieces of free fruit for this reason and HUGE bunches of kale for a buck.
Next, take a second to Google the fruits and vegetables that are in season (I used this guide). It turns out not all things available at the market are in their natural harvest season, and the things that are being sold outside of their natural harvest season may not be local. Some people like to plan out detailed meals around what they're hoping to find before heading in – I wish I was one of these people – instead I'll make a mental note of what to keep an eye out for and worry about what I'm going to do with it later. This leaves room for some spontaneous buys. Worst comes to worst, you can always pair any random vegetable with a juicy steak. Always.
Make sure you're buying what you think you're buying, ya know? I've made the mistake of assuming that all produce sold at the farmer's market is by default, organic. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case, so if it's not advertised on the vendor's sign, it's a good idea to ask them directly if their food is certified organic. Also, samples are there for a reason – try 'em.
Patience is a virtue at the farmer's market. The one in our neighborhood has a booth positioned right at the front selling gorgeous flowers and a lot of them. It's easy to get excited and want to drop your entire allowance on a bouquet of pink peonies and call it a day, but try your best to keep it together and see what else is out there. Shopping around before making any purchases will guarantee you get the best price and the freshest stuff. I like to stand back and listen to conversations other shoppers are having with the farmers. I tend to buy from the ones that sound really knowledgable about their product.
Along with the no-brainer buys, like berries and kale, try to take advantage of the non-produce offerings too. There's an awesome booth at our market that sells whole organic 5-step chickens. They've been sold out every time we've tried to buy one, so I'm assuming they're good. The point here is to not be scared of these booths. If nothing else, pass on the chicken this time around and go research the specific farmer when you get home, then pick one up on your next visit.
Once I've picked which farmer I'm going to buy flowers from, I like to build my own bouquet, instead of choosing a pre-made one. I usually gravitate towards the spunkiest ones I can find, keeping in mind that the heads of the flowers should be tight on most types of blooms to ensure they'll open more and last for a while in the vase.
If you have some extra cash after you've picked up your food, grab a few small succulents to bring home. They're the perfect plant to have indoors, really easy to take care of (you don't, you just leave them alone), and they're inexpensive at the farmer's market. I picked up 4 this past weekend – 2 small ones to put in a planter and 2 larger to fill out a big pot. The total was only $12. Most of those little guys grow into something bigger too, so ask the farmer exactly what will happen with it. This way you know what you're getting yourself into.
For right around $40 this past weekend, we brought home 4 succulents, 2 bouquets of flowers, 1 bushel of carrots, 1 bag of cherries, 1 huge bunch of kale, 1 huge bunch of broccoli, 5 nectarines, and a container of the best cayenne garlic spread...ever.
What are your tricks to navigating the farmer's market? I'd love to hear them!