The beginning of May is typically the time of year where many cities across the country kick off their summer farmers market season. This season will often run from May through October, and just like the growing season, the produce offerings and selection will too slowly evolve from week to week.
Shopping a farmers market can be as leisurely as a stroll through the park, but if you want to step it up a notch and truly eat local this summer, below are a few helpful tips and trick that will ensure your trip will be productive and plentifully.
1. Visit earlier than later. The best stuff will sell out fast. Since farmers can only sell what their crop has yielded, quantities are undoubtedly limited. If you have a particular food item in mind, get to the market early. For instance, I know that if I want 2 dozen farm fresh eggs, I need to get to the market around 9am, opposed to noon. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Pro-Tip: Make friends with the farmer, and she might save you a choice selection for the morning you’re running late.
2. Walk completely through the market before making a purchase, and take note of pricing. Because many farmers sell the same produce, take a leisurely stroll down the isles and do some discrete price comparison before you make a purchase.
Pro-Tip: The same pint of strawberries might be a dollar cheaper just a few steps away.
3. Don’t be shy, ask questions! Making the commitment to eat seasonal and local is a learning experience. Don’t be ashamed or shy to ask the farmer questions such as how is the best way to prepare a new (to you) fruit, or when to know if a fruit is ripe. They are passionate about their produce, and want you to love their crop.
Pro-Tip: Just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s organic. Feel free to ask about their growing practices.
4. Consider buying in bulk. Sometimes, it pays to buy more than you need at the moment, and save the rest for later. For instance, ask the farmer if he will cut you a deal (many will discount 15%-30%) if you buy 10 pounds of berries, rather than only 1 pound. You can use what you need while it’s fresh, and preserve the rest for when the fruit is out of season later in the year.
Pro-Tip: The farmer doesn’t want to load his truck back up with unsold produce at the end of the market. When it’s ripe, it’s ripe, and he need to sell it before it spoils!
5. Know the crop calendar. Part of the joy of shopping local is developing a strong appreciation of fresh foods at the height of their natural growing season.
Pro-Tip: Visit the farmers market informational booth. You can oftentimes grab a market specific growing calendar, letting you know what types of fresh offerings you can expect at the market and when.
Not everyone wants the same thing out of their farmers market experience. You might shop the market purely because you want to support local, and it’s a fun way to kill a Saturday morning. Or you might shop the market because you’re trying to transition completely out of the big box grocery store.
Regardless of your reasoning for visiting your local farmers markets, markets undoubtedly are a great way to engage in your local community, and put a friendly face on the food you eat.
Emily Elling is a corporate interior designer who lives in central Indiana with her 4 rugrats and drug making husband of 9 years. When she’s not taking care of the monsters, she can be found barefoot in the kitchen or hiding in the isles of her favorite thrift store buying other’s peoples crap. You can read more from Emily on her blog, DesignHer Momma.