Between crisp fall harvests, preserved pantry finds in the winters, first-of-the-season spring blooms, and full and luscious summer bounties, farmers markets are full of seasonal finds.
Because there are so many people who want to eat more fresh and seasonal products, 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.
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I used to live in Seattle, and didn’t make it to the local shopping spots… well, ever!
When I was new to the scene here in California for the first time, there were a few things I just didn’t understand, and was almost never prepared when I would arrive.
Looking back, it was a little embarrassing, and definitely frustrating!
So today, I want to share some tips with you, so you don’t make the same first-timer mistakes I made.
When your totes are packed full of amazing goodies, you can thank me later!
5 Tips to Know Before Heading out to the Farmers Market
1. Be Kind
Don’t haggle with the vendor, asking for a discount or complaining to them that it’s cheaper to shop at the grocery store.
The people selling the products at the markets are often the same people who grew or made them, and what they do is a lot of work that should be appreciated and admired.
Just remember, you’re supporting your local economy and getting food that is in its freshest form – often much fresher than what you might find if you were to buy it at a chain grocery store instead.
So, respect your local farmers and businesses, and accept the cost of what they have decided to charge for their meticulously harvested or crafted products.
2. Bring a Bag, a Cart, or Wagon
A lot of markets are banning the use of plastic bags with their shopping transactions, so it’s important to bring your own bags, totes, or baskets.
It’s a more sustainable option for the environment this way, as well!
This Capabunga 7-pocket Farmers Market Tote will help you keep all of your purchases separated and organized. You can buy it now from Sur La Table.
If you’re planning to stock up, feel free to bring something bigger like a cart, or even a wagon. I’ve seen some pretty creative devices in use for carrying out pounds and pounds of goods!
If you buy a certain type of produce in a bulk quantity, you can get an incredibly awesome deal.
So don’t forget to always have some bags – or a cart – in your trunk, and stock up on the current season’s bounty!
3. Carry Cash
Many farmers and vendors are minimalists at the markets – they like to keep business transactions easy, simple, fast, and straightforward!
In other words, many of them may not be able to accept credit and debit cards.
You’ll notice that some vendors do have updated point-of-sale systems and can accept cards, but I can guarantee that all of them will 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 fee on top of making me take out more money than I wanted to in the first place.
To avoid this, always bring cash – just in case!
This can help you to stay within your spending budget, as well.
4. Give Yourself Enough Time
If it’s your first experience attending, or your first visit of a new season, give yourself some time.
I suggest doing one initial walk-through to see everything that’s being offered. Carefully review and compare the quality of the products and the prices.
For example, a lot of times growers will have similar produce, but some will be more expensive, or one stand will have fresher or more high-quality offerings.
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 vendors, learn a little bit about their farm or business, get cooking recommendations, and try samples – all of which also take more time and patience!
5. Know the Difference Between Organic and Local
If an 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.
Assuming produce is organic is more of a stretch.
Organic means the food was grown and processed 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, refer to Tip #1 and kindly ask.
Many small farmers also grow produce using organic and sustainable methods, though they are not certified organic. The expense of a USDA certification is often prohibitively high. A quick conversation can reveal this information as well.
You can also do your own research prior to shopping. Learn more about an organic certification through the USDA.
Enjoy the Experience
I hope all of these quick tips will help you when you are planning to make your trip!
After reviewing my list before you attend your shopping event, you can avoid the rookie mistakes I made on my first visit to the local market.
Do you remember your very first experience? What were some blunders you made, and some advice you wish you knew before going?
Feel free to leave a comment below, and share your own tips for shopping at the farmers market.
Do you need more assistance with making the most of other seasonal offerings and events? Foodal is always happy and here to help! Review all of our informational articles and tutorials, but check out these three first before you go:
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.