(It might be a surprise to learn you’ve been doing it wrong)
It seems as if everyone has an opinion on farmer’s markets.
Some will say: “Supporting small farms is a big deal.”
Some go further and state: “Buying fresh produce from a local farmer is a way to support the earth.”
No matter how you look at it, they offer the freshest produce around.
I remember my first trip to Europe. We stayed in small communities, and utilized local markets regularly. Biting into a tomato, a peach, or even an apple did something to my taste buds. Wow – I couldn’t believe the difference.
Of course, I researched it. And have thought A LOT about it.
Imagine picking a fruit or veggie halfway around the world. It has to be transported from that country to ours, through customs to a warehouse where it’s delivered to a grocery store. And FINALLY, to the shelves where I can buy it and bring it home. Estimates show that, on average, food will travel about 1,500 miles before it winds up on your table.
That means fresh produce has to be picked while still unripe, then gassed to “ripen” after transport. Or a company utilizes preservatives or irradiation techniques to keep it stable for transport and sale.
Now compare that to fresh produce picked a day or two before, and immediately brought to market. It’s allowed to ripen on the vine and tastes, oh, so good.
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Are you sold on visiting farmer’s markets? Do you frequent them yourself?
Before I dive into providing you with a “shopping guide” to make the most of your shopping experience, let’s talk about a few of the benefits of shopping there.
Benefits of shopping at farmer’s markets
You meet the farmers
If you stick with smaller farmer’s markets, you’ll most likely meet the families who care for the produce year round. Talk with them. Ask them questions. You’ll discover more about food and what to do with it even with simple conversations.
I love this personal experience. They might alert you to what they’ll be bringing in the coming weeks. You may even get a better idea of how to cook with something, or how to incorporate it into your recipes. I’ve shopped at some of my local farms for years – they keep coming back year after year. It’s like saying hello to an old friend.
You get ideas for cooking
I love experimenting with new-to-me foods. But sometimes you look at something and think … What do I do with that? If they have a moment, farmers are happy to give you ideas. They’ve chosen to grow it for a reason, so they’re equally delighted to give you ideas on how to use it.
It also creates shoppers year after year. One of my local farmers brings nopales and fava beans – they’re in season right now. Most scratch their heads, wondering what to do with them. By asking questions and doing a little research, I love playing around with these new foods. Gorgeous!
You get the freshest food
This is a no-brainer. When you buy something they picked the day before, you’ll notice it in the flavor. You’ll see it in the way it folds into your recipes. And you’ll notice it in your health! Good nutritious food makes a healthier body!
Gives you new things to try
I make it a point to look for foods I’ve never tried before. If I don’t recognize something, I ask about it. And there’s always a story behind it.
This is an amazing way to try new things. It also gives you an excuse to do a little research and figure out ways to incorporate it into your meals. Most of these foods will only be available for a few weeks at most, so you can play around with your meal options and then savor them for the season. (And look forward to them when they show up the next season!)
It’s not all about food
Of course, farmer’s markets bring out the best in everyone. I LOVE the flowers that show up. Plus, these flowers are also local, meaning they grow in neighboring communities. You can ask about pesticides and discover unique ways to display them.
The lavender farms bring dried bouquets of lavender, making everything from sachets to body balms available.
Local organic wineries are there to give shoppers a taste.
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In the spring are several nurseries offering unique plants for the garden. I purchased a German cantaloupe variety I’m excited to nurture this season.
Honestly, if you haven’t been to a farmer’s market lately, I highly suggest you find one near you and head out to experience what they offer. If you don’t enjoy one, find another. They each have their own appeal.
Secret tips for making your shopping experience better
Farmer’s markets are fairly flexible and easy to navigate. But if you’re new to the concept, let me share a few tips it took me a while to learn about.
Take a lap first
It’s easy to get excited at the first booth. The piles of produce make you want to purchase a little bit of everything. Yet when you walk to the next booth, you may find something you like better.
Especially at a new market, I always complete a lap and take in the entire market. It gives me a sense of what each booth has to offer, compare prices, and even check out where they’re from.
Because I attend my local one every week, I tend to know who everyone is and what they usually bring. I grab quickly from my favorites. But even then, I’m often surprised by what a booth further down has to offer.
Most farmers have a way of paying by card these days. But cash can often make things a lot easier. I typically use a card when I’m loading up on food, and use cash when I’m buying ones and twos. The bottom line here is: be prepared.
Talk with the stand owner
Farmer’s markets can be big business. Not every stand is built exclusively for a local farm; some come from great distances and bring food from a variety of sources.
When I shop, I have my favorites. I love the little local organic farm from just down the road. They work hard to ensure they remain pesticide-free, and always have unusual foods for me to try. The owners are fun to talk with and always grateful for the business.
The more you shop, the more you’ll learn about the businesses you buy from frequently. That’s good! It’s getting back to source.
Plan your meals
Oh, are farmer’s markets tempting. You can quickly turn a shopping trip for a few items into bags of finds you had no intention of buying. That’s not always a bad thing … but it is if you can’t use it and you throw it all away.
Especially if you’re new to plant-based foods. It all looks so good!
Take some time before you shop and plan out your meals for a week. That helps you remember the late-night meetings where you know you’ll eat out. Or the days you simply won’t have time to cook a big meal. It helps you make better selections while shopping, ensuring nothing goes to waste.
Stop the waste
It often comes as a big surprise how quickly farmer’s market food can go to waste. Without preservatives or irradiation techniques, your lettuce will wilt, and strawberries move to mush.
Be conscious of what you buy. I also buy food produce savers to add life to foods inside your refrigerator. And when things start to fade, I wash them, cut them up, and pop everything into the freezer for later use. A lot of it ends up in my morning smoothies – yum!
Arrive early or late
Want the best produce? Arrive early. You’ll be first in line to make your selections.
Looking for a bargain? Some farmers will discount what’s left at the end of the day rather than bringing it home. I’m NOT in favor of bargaining with farmers – they work hard at what they do and should get a fair price for their food. That said, produce has a short shelf life, and many would rather sell it at a discount than deal with it when they get home.
You’re ready to go …
It’s fairly easy to find local farmer’s markets in your area. But if you need a few ideas for finding ones to your liking, give these sites a try.
The USDA has a food directory to help you find local farmer’s markets, food hubs, or on-farm markets.
Local Harvest allows you to search based on your geographical location.
Local Farm Markets allows you to find farm stands in your local area.
You can always do a Google search too.
Then bring a bunch of bags, load up the car with your kids, and plan on spending some time at your next market. You’ll love what you find. And it may just change your approach to Good Food.