5 Things to Know before Heading out to the Farmers Market

As the seasons change and spring turns to summer, the farmers markets start to take off.

Because just about everyone wants to eat more fresh and seasonal produce, the markets are the perfect place to pick up groceries for the week ahead.

A box of cherimoya fruit at a Southern California farmers market.
I guess this is called a cherimoya. I’m still waiting for it to ripen, so I haven’t eaten it yet. Anybody have experience with them? Any ideas what to eat it with?

I’m lucky enough to live in California, where we have year-round farmers markets, but it wasn’t always this way. I used to live in Seattle, and didn’t make it to the markets… well, ever!

When I was new to the scene here, there were a few things I just didn’t understand, and was almost never prepared when I would arrive at the market.

Looking back, it was embarrassing. So today I want to share some tips with you, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made. You can thank me later!

5 Things you need to know

1. Bring Cash

Farmers are minimalists; they like to keep it easy and simple. In other words, they don’t like dealing with your credit and debit cards. Some do take cards, but all of them take cash.

A large plastic crate full of cilantro bundled into bunches and with a sign advertising them for sell for a $1 a bundle.

I made the mistake of thinking, “Oh, I’m sure they will take a card” way too many times, and ended up having to make a run to the local ATM, which charged me a 2 dollar fee on top of making me take out more money than I wanted to in the first place. To avoid this, always bring cash. This can help you to stay within your budget, too.

2. Be Kind

Don’t haggle with your farmer, asking for a discount or telling them that it’s cheaper to shop at the grocery store. The people selling produce at the better markets are often the same people who grew that food, which is a lot of work.

Radishes in bunches at Farmers market with prices marked $1.50 per bunch.

Just remember, you’re supporting your local economy and getting food that is in its freshest form – a lot fresher than what you might find if you were to buy it at your local chain grocery store instead. The produce that you find at the market has usually been harvested within the last 48 hours.

3. Know the Difference between Organic and Local

If organic certification is important to you, then don’t be fooled by growers who post “grown locally” all over their booth. Organic does not necessarily mean local, and vice versa. That being said, organic produce can be local and local food can be organic.

Close up of bunches of beets with leafy greens. Close up.

Also, you can’t assume that the food is local; it all depends on the rules of the market. Ask for clarification if it is not stated. Generally, the non-profit organizations will only allow locally grown produce, while for-profit setups will allow anything that appears to be a fruit or vegetable. The worst setups often allow the operation to turn into a flea market as well.

Boxes of locally grown berries at a California Farmers Market.

Assuming produce is organic is more of a stretch. Organic essentially means the food was grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics. The food also cannot be irradiated, genetically engineered or genetically modified. If you can’t tell if the produce is organic or local, just ask. The farmers really don’t mind.

Many small farmers also grow produce using organic and sustainable methods, though they are not certified organic. The expense of certification is often prohibitively high. A quick conversation can reveal this information as well.

4. Give Yourself Enough Time

If it’s your first time attending or your first visit of the season, give yourself some time. I suggest doing a walk through to see everything that’s being offered.

A green ceramic pot with bunches of date blooms for sale.

Look at the quality of the produce and the price. A lot of times growers will have similar produce, but some will be more expensive or one stand will have fresher looking strawberries.

If you’re in a rush and short on time, you won’t be able to make these comparisons. It’s also nice to have a chance to talk to the produce growers, learn a little bit about their farm or vegetable garden, get cooking recommendations and try samples, all of which take a little extra time.

5. Bring a Bag, Cart or even a Wagon!

A lot of markets are banning plastic bags, so it’s important to bring your own bags. It’s better for the environment this way as well.

If you’re planning to stock up, feel free to bring a cart, or even a little wagon. I’ve seen some pretty creative carts in use, for carrying out pounds and pounds of berries.

A lot of times, if you buy a certain type of produce in quantity, you can get a good deal. So bring some bags and stock up on this season’s bounty.

Enjoy Yourself

I hope those tips will help you avoid the rookie mistakes I made on my first visit to the local market. Feel free to leave a comment below, and share your own tips for shopping at the farmers market.

Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different types of product at a farmers market.

Photos by Raquel Smith, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on May 23rd, 2015. Last updated: April 6, 2018 at 12:32 pm.

About Sarah Hagstrom

Sarah is a health food advocate and loves to spend her time whipping up something healthy and delicious in the kitchen and then sharing either on Foodal or on her own blog "The Seasonal Diet" (www.theseasonaldiet.com). She lives in Sunny San Diego with her husband, where they enjoy running on the beach and weekend adventures.

31 thoughts on “5 Things to Know before Heading out to the Farmers Market”

  1. I like to browse Farmers Markets and the advice given is quite standard. In regards to cash, bring small change and notes and try to have the exact money as often change is an issue.

    I also like to shop around before I buy to compare prices and quality. Don’t be afraid to pick up and feel products because once you have bought it, it’s too late if you discover if something is damaged.

    Also wear good walking shoes for a big market as they can get messy on the ground. I’ve seen people slip on a stray tomato!

    • Not in Houston yet now have gone to a Kansas City market a couple of times. Your tips are spot on and very helpful. Didn’t think to take canvas bags. Thank you.

  2. Living in Germany, I’m really weirded out by the mere thought that people would bring a credit card to a market. It is really unthinkable in Europe, that I know of!

    Though I’ve seen people haggling on the markets here. I’m not sure if the people selling the products were always the growers, though. None of the ones here get advertised as farmer markets… I’m a bit envious of that aspect of the US markets.

  3. Browsing any festival or farmer’s market always bargains for enough time to check out the whole lot before purchasing anything. More often than not, you can get a better deal for your loot, or obtain a healthier bargain. Cash is the item that makes the world go around; I definitely agree that you can’t always assume that everyone will take a card. Taking cards can be a huge hassle if not equipped with the right tools to make the transaction easy and safe for the consumer and the owner. These are great tips for not just farmer’s markets, but also large festivals in your area!

  4. Yes your tips are very helpful being the fact that I do want to go to the farmers market convention this year. And I only would like to eat organic fruits and vegetables only so now I know to ask and not assume. And of course the most important thing is to bring a cart or bag because I would have definitely have assumed that they would provide them. Thanks for the tips.

  5. This piece definitely helped me learn more about preparing for these events. My college recently began hosting a Farmer’s Market on campus, and I was very confused as to what this meant for the students. I now realize that having one of these on campus is a very great things that can help many students switch to locally grown or organic vegetables instead of eating junk food or canned food. I can definitely use these tips when the event occurs again, and maybe now that I understand the mission I can be a part of it!

  6. Many vendors take cards where I live, but you can’t assume they all will, so I definitely try to carry cash. I think it’s safer anyway. I’ve mostly gone to craft vendors up to this point, but I intend to buy more produce from farmer’s markets, so these tips are super handy. Comparison shopping is something I like to do anyway, so I’ll definitely have to apply it here as well.

  7. The farmers market here in Kansas City, MO is great. I agree about bringing cash because it does come in handy and saves time. I also agree about looking around first before you buy.

    What I love most about the farmers market here is the location. It is also next to a Chinese market which I love and also has great prices. So its like two shopping areas in one plus there are a bunch of actual stores/shops/restaurants.

    There is a Italian store with also has a butcher so you can get a great meat selection. So far the most I ever spent was $15 and I filled up my whole cart. That is a great deal compared to spending that on two or three things at a regular store.

  8. I really enjoy going to the farmers market. I just went to the farmers market yesterday and its pretty small because I live in a small town. I can usually walk through and see everything in about 10-15 minutes. I really enjoy getting produce there to support local growers.
    This list is a must know if you have never gone to the farmers market before.

  9. I’ve definitely made the mistake of rushing at a farmer’s market before…while it was still an enjoyable experience, later on I realized I missed out on a great deal on strawberries just a few more stalls over! Yikes!

    And yes, being in California we are extremely lucky to have farmer’s markets year ’round; the one(s) in my town are amazing and typically if you go frequently enough the vendors know you by name, which is always nice!

    Another tip I have for farmer’s markets…don’t hesitate to try a new produce or a new type of food you’ve never seen or had before. Our local farmer’s market sells homemade sauerkraut and while I’m not a huge fan, my husband is so I got some. They were SO good, they nearly converted me to full-time sauerkraut eater!

  10. That farmer’s market looks ideal and neat {in the presentation} unlike the ones’ I have had the opportunity of visiting, from pickpockets, to dirt, to crowds…total peril! Those tips are great, I happen to have one flaw, always asking for a discount…truly, I have been unkind, I ought to change behavior, glad to know I have ready-made tips to fall back on whenever I slip up 🙂

  11. Great tips, especially bring your own bags, and bring cash. I like the be kind suggestion, and I wish more people would also apply it to handmade goods, rather than suggesting they could get something similar cheaper from China. We have a few local farmer’s markets, but I’ve only been to a big one up in Houston. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll check out the local ones, and get to know the local growers.

  12. If you are unsure of how to cook a certain fruit or vegetable, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The vendors are very knowledgeable on how to prepare the produce and entice you with recipes to try out. You may even learn a different way to cook with the ingredients you love. Be polite and don’t be afraid to ask.

  13. This is fantastic advice! There’s a farmers market that comes around every weekend a few blocks away from my university, but I’ve never been there (mostly because it’s gone by noon). I’ve always wanted to go, though, and now that I don’t have a meal plan, I’ll need to buy my own fruits and vegetables.

  14. I live in China where the food supply can be a little scary at times. We’re actually lucky though that there are a large number of open air vegetable and fruit markets where farmers, or cooperative representatives directly sell their food to the public. It’s fantastic, and while I’d gladly pay more for the quality we get, it actually costs just a fraction of going to the supermarket.

  15. Thanks for this guide. I’ve only been to a farmer’s market once before and the food was wonderful and fresh but it was all very confusing. I almost threw my debit card at one vendor but he just wouldn’t take it. I will know for next time though. There is one scheduled in my area next week. I’m excited to get myself some great fresh produce.

  16. This is a good list. I haven’t been to a farmer’s market yet. I do enjoy fresh produce though. Real, fresh and a high quality. So this is going to be good for me to do. I’ve heard about the ones that you go and pick your own. You buy into a season. It first sounds expensive but if you do the math it is actually cheaper. It is something like $600 a season. A co-worker of mine split it with a neighbor. You can get huge amounts of what you need too. I think you can go once a week and take what you are allowed. I spend way more than that on organic produce.

  17. I would add be considerate of other shoppers by not blocking stands, and don’t fondle the merchandise. You are bruising up the produce if you handle it too much.

  18. Most vendors of any type prefer cash instead of card. I wish haggling was more accepted in the US because I’m good at it, and it is a fair way to approach a purchasing situation, in my opinion. I understand farm work is difficult, I have helped on a ranch before, but bulk discounts, etc. should always be a part of a seller’s plan.
    I haven’t been to a farmer’s market in awhile, but the one I went to in Florida was huge and sold a wide variety of products. My father and I bought a bunch of honey; which can be a great local find at many markets. Farmer’s Markets are pretty much the only place I like to buy honey. You would think many of these tips would be obvious to many, but, alas, I doubt that is the case, especially with the growing popularity.
    I have found beef to be wildly overpriced at many markets for the quality.

  19. Growing up in a tropical country, Philippines, where farmer’s markets are almost everywhere. I was able to easily learn the basics, and gain a considerable amount of knowledge throughout the years… I strongly concur that most, or should I say all of the fruits and vegetables they’re offering are somewhat of the same quality. But that’s not entirely true. There are seemingly better-looking goods, but really isn’t, so it is best to be as observant as possible. Just looking helps, but touching the goods is also a good thing, because you’ll get a really good feel whether the goods you’re trying to buy is worth the penny.

  20. Living in a country where buying from a farmer’s market is much (like a loooooooooot) cheaper than buying from the supermarket, my mom has taught me a lot of notes regarding vegetables, fruits and fishes, on how to know whether they’re fresh or not, ripe or raw, etc. -But lately, the prices in the farmer’s market began to inflate, so the prices in the supermarket is becoming cheaper than those in the farmer’s market :(.

  21. All good tips. I love going to my farmers market. I am actually a member of a local non-profit that helps connect our farmers and other food producers with the community, so I’m quite involved in my local food movement. Knowing the people who make my food, seeing them every week, talking with them is such a nice experience. shopping at the market is a much better, more relaxing, and fulfilling experience than going to a grocery store, in my opinion. Some people are frustrated with haggling being frowned upon in American farmers markets but I’ll reiterate, do Not haggle with your farmers. These people are taking care of your food from planting it in the ground to harvesting it for you to eat. It takes months of back breaking labor, long hours, patience, and love to make that food. They don’t get help from the government, it is expensive to run a farm, and the pay is low. When you try to haggle the price down, a price they feel is fair for all the work and money they pored into that food, it’s like you are slapping them in the face. If you are a good customer, polite, friendly, and regularly buy from them they’ll most likely give you a deal here or there when you’re short on cash, when they have extra produce they need to get used, or just to say thanks. It’s their choice though. Show appreciation for their art and pay them the money they deserve.

  22. There’s a huge farmers market by where I live and I always just sort of blindly wandered around it buying whatever looked like it would taste good. This article is a huge help. I think I’ve more or less leaned how to choose the best of certain foods (I’m a pro at choosing ginger) but for others I’m completely lost. I never thought about asking if the vegetables were organically grown. I need to do that the next time I go.

  23. We have several farmer’s markets in our area and I just love going to them. They provide us with such lovely fresh produce, most of it fresher and at a better price than the local store. It is also a nice outing as there are many interesting stalls and always something new.

  24. My city has done a farmer’s market for years, but I’ve never made the time to check it out. Thank you for these tips, I definitely assumed to bring cash, but would have totally forgotten to bring reusable bags! Also very good to hear an explanation of the difference between “local” and “organic” labels, and I will be asking for clarification from growers on their methods, I had no idea that organic certification was so costly. It makes sense now why “organic” produce has such a high price tag if this certification costs so much to attain. Looking forward to checking out my local market now, and much more prepared to do so! Thank you!

  25. Great advice, but while reading your article I realised how many differences there are between Europe and America when it comes to farmer’s markets. Here in Romania Farmer’s have their own booth and they sell what they have, no credit cards or limitations, they just have to pay a license.

  26. I live in Mexico and local markets are extremely common over here, actually, a lot of people don’t really buy their fruits and veggies on a regular supermarket, since farmers markets (and even little trucks on smaller towns) are a fresh and on my opinion, a little bit more healthy option than supermarkets. You don’t really are sure that they have planted the hole stuff but I don’t know, there’s something more fresh and reliable on the ones that are from the the farmers market.

  27. There is always an abundance of fresh produce where I stay, but lately I have been noticing that the size of the fruits and vegetables keeps getting bigger and bigger. What I want to know is, are the bigger fruits and vegs as healthy or as nutritious as the normal sized ones?

  28. Another good point for a farmer’s market is that when you need something in a larger quantity, sometimes you can also haggle a little bit with the price. I even do this slightly at times when two booths have a product I want, but one is higher-priced, but looks like it’s better quality. I can often at least get them to match the price at the other stand. I live in Ohio, so our markets usually run from April or May to Sept or Oct, depending on how the weather treats us. Farmer’s markets are a weekly thing for me. Cash isn’t always a must at our farmer’s market here. They even take food stamps, believe it or not!

  29. I definitely agree that it’s best to be kind to the sellers at the market because they are usually the ones that grow the food. A lot of them have a lot of experience behind them, as well, so you can trust they are giving you a fair price. We really want to find some food markets near us so that we can do our part to put money into the local economy. I’ll remember this article and be sure to be kind when we start buying from local producers.


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