The farmer’s market is a great way to support local farmers and eat fresh food without breaking the bank. If you’re lucky to live in an area that thrives on farmer’s markets, you can easily make your local market your one-stop place for your week’s meals. There are lots of ways to get the most out of the farmer’s market like a pro.
Make a Meal Plan Before You Go
Much like going to a traditional grocery store, your game plan works better if you take the time to make a meal plan and/or a detailed list before you go. If you go into the farmer’s market with a strategy, you should have no problem getting a week’s worth of fresh food there. You don’t even have to have a set list of items. If you like to tailor your recipes, just write the meal down and let your creativity align with the items you come across. This gives you flexibility for the seasonal items that week. Have you always been one of those people who just wing their shopping trips and ends up with hardly anything useful? There are services like Cozymeal where a chef will go the farmer’s market with you and go home with you to cook with the food you purchased.
Shop at Larger Farmer’s Markets
If you’re dedicated to buying the majority of your food at farmer’s markets, then you’ll need to find a market that sells more than just produce. When you live in a good sized town, it won’t be hard to find a market that sells items like bread, eggs, dairy, and even meat. It isn’t uncommon to find farmers selling handmade breads, pastries, sausages, and cheeses at bigger farmer’s markets. Not only will you be getting some pretty high-quality foods, you won’t be spending nearly as much as you would in a grocery store.
Finding the Best Deals
Experienced market shoppers agree there are two times to go to the market. If you want the best selection of goods, go as early as possible. Depending on your local food culture, you might be shopping with restaurants and they’ll buy such a large amount of food that there might not be much left. This is especially true in the summer months when citrus and berries are at their peak. If you’re going to save money, go in the final hour of the market or during bad weather. When you go during the last hour, the merchants are going to offer pretty significant discounts so they don’t have to drive home with a ton of produce they’ll end up composting or feeding to livestock.
Don’t Be Afraid to Shop Around
When budget is important, there’s no reason to be shy about talking to other vendors to see if you can get a better deal. While the difference in price may be because one farm is organic and the other isn’t, it never hurts to look around. Experts recommend skipping the larger stand situated right next to the entrance. They often raise their prices because a lot of people want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Take your time shopping. Walk around and see if you can get that box of apples cheaper from someone else.
Don’t Focus on a Farm’s Organic Status
It’s really expensive to be certified organic by the USDA, and it’s a long, tedious process. A lot of small farms aren’t able to afford or justify that cost. If buying organic produce is important to you, then talk to the farmer! They’re usually more than happy to talk to you about how they grow their food. Just because they don’t have an organic certification doesn’t mean they aren’t adhering to organic standards. It’s possible that a small family-owned farm has stricter policies than a USDA organic farm, and they’ve decided not to pursue the label for financial reasons. Never be afraid to ask questions.
Buy the Ugliest Produce
As an American, you’re accustomed to waxed, shining, clean produce. It can be a little unsettling to go to a farmer’s market and see dirt-covered carrots and radishes with the greens still attached or apples that are a dull red instead of glistening in the sun. Embrace this! Not many people know that produce with their greens still attached last longer than trimmed produce. Also, some greens can be eaten and are quite tasty! Talk to the farmer and see what you can do with the greens. Some people make pesto while radish and beet greens taste like kale!
Shopping smart at the farmer’s market can eliminate the need to head to the grocery store for fresh foods. When you go to a market with your meal plan, be flexible. If you need zucchini but they only have patty pan squash, you can easily alter your recipe to include this kind of squash and avoid a trip to the grocery store. Take pride in purchasing affordable food that supports some of your area’s hardest working families.