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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.