9 Tips for Shopping a Farmers’ Market

Don't let yourself make costly mistakes

AllessiaMy 10-year vision for myself has me waking up bright an early each morning, hitting a local farmers’ market with a mini-me in tow and getting inspired in the moment to cook up a delicious, seasonal and healthful meal for my family that day. Romantic, right? I love the idea of buying bread from the baker, meat from the butcher and produce from a farmer. For now, my shopping habits are less whimsical and more grocery store but every time I get to a market I feel a pang in my heart that connects me to my future self. Here are few tips for shopping "market fresh."

1. The early bird gets the freshest produce
Get there early for the cream of the crop. You’ll beat the crowds and earn a little extra face-time with the farmers. It’s a passion and a science to cultivate beautiful produce so don’t underestimate their knowledge when it comes to how to pick and prepare whatever is in season.

2. Bring small bills
Often times farmers’ markets will be cash only–do your local vendor a favor and bring the smallest bills you’ve got–you’ll save them from running out of small change and land yourself on their good side (which is a great place to be)!

3. Do a once-around first
Scope out the scene before you start filling up your basket with goodies–it’s the only way to discover who’s offering the best stuff for the best prices!

4. BYO bag
Everybody wins when you use a reusable shopper. From minimizing waste for the environment to saving the vendor a few cents a bag, it’s an easy way to earn some good karma (and a more reliable way to carry a melon home). Plus, we happen to know a little place that has some great reusable shoppers!

5. Know what’s in season
If you know what’s in season you’re more likely to come home with the best tasting stuff. Check out the app ‘Seasons’ for an easy guide to what’s fresh when, in your region! Bonus: it even lets you know of markets happening close to you!

6. Just because it’s a farmers' market doesn’t mean it’s local
Take the time to read up on what kind of market you’re headed to. Read the ‘rules’ of the market for insight on what kind of produce you might be looking at. It’s not uncommon for markets to allow vendors to offer commercially-purchased and imported goods. Talk to the people behind the counters for the full story on where your food is really coming from–they’ll know it best.

7. Organic or not organic?
Here’s another sneaky one: Just because something isn’t labeled “organic” doesn’t mean it isn’t produced following organic principles. Certifications can be very expensive and can discourage small local farms from receiving the official documentation. Ask the farmers about their philosophies and make the call accordingly!

8. Have a method to your madness
It’s not a bad idea to spend a little time strategically thinking about the order in which you buy stuff. Purchasing heavier items first is great because you’ll want them at the bottom of the bags. The down side? You’ll end up having to lug them around. Buying lighter items first is easier on the biceps but will require a rearrange half way through your shop. It’s a personal preference thing but worth considering!

9. Take your time
Farmers’ markets are best shopped when you are not on a schedule. Try to avoid “fitting in” a trip on an already busy day. If you’re anything like me you’ll get flustered and stressed. Take the time to soak in the experience and do it right. You’ll leave relaxed and inspired to get creative in the kitchen.

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