I love to shop at farmers markets. I have visited many in the different communities throughout my state, as well as, some in other states while I have been vacationing. I look forward to the experience every season. Why? The atmosphere is wonderful. The sweet scent of the fresh produce and flowers is intoxicating. And, the predominance of smiling faces is uplifting. From my experiences, I have learned a few things that have helped me to get the most out of my visits to farmers markets. Here is what I have learned:
What to expect: Anything and everything. Farmers’ markets are typically known for their wide arrray of fresh, in-season produce, homemade baked goods, and flats of flowers and other plants from local farmers. Larger markets may offer craft goods made by local artists, as well as, flea market items – such as used books and toys. Depending on the community, you may find entertainment, such as music from “garage” bands and magicians who entertain children. Many farmers markets are open-air entities, however, some are enclosed. Although each community offers its unique approach to the farmers market, you can rest assured that you will find smiling, friendly faces who are eager to share their expertise and experiences with you.
What to bring:
- Reusable bags with handles. Few vendors have bags for purchased items; and, when they do, the bags are typically plastic and flimsy. Reusable bags are eco-friendly and tend to be stronger, thus reducing the risk of breaking under the weight of the fresh produce.
- Small containers with lids. Many vendors use the containers for display only and do not give them to you as part of the purchase, hence, your pint of loose blueberries may get squashed in your bag. Small containers from home that are used to store leftovers can help solve the problem.
- A wagon or mini cart. During one of our first farmers market experiences, my family and I got carried away with our purchases and had no means of which to carry them. Luckily, a vendor was selling small wheeled carts. We purchased one and have taken it with us on many subsequent outings.
- Bring a cooler with ice packs. A cooler will help to keep your purchases fresh until you can take them home and prepare them.
- Cash. Some vendors accept personal checks and/or credit cards, but many do not. Using cash to purchase your items will also speed up the checkout process.
- Comfortable walking shoes, clothes for the weather (e.g., rain coat), sunscreen, sunglasses and/or hat, etc,.
- A sense of adventure. You will never know what you will find. Keep an open mind and try a new fruit or vegetable that the vendor has for sale. Sometimes, just by letting your senses be the guide, you may find a new favorite that you can make part of a healthy diet.
Best time to go:
- Early if you want the best selection.
- Late if you want the best deals.
- Make a list of what you need to buy, however, don’t let it limit you. Although you will want to have a general idea of what you want to buy, a farmer may be offering something that is not on your list, but looks particularly fresh. Don’t hesitate to buy it if you think you could use it in a recipe for that week.
- Plan to spend some time at the market, especially if it is a large one.
- Do an initial assessment. Take a stroll around the market first to get a feel for what vendors are offering. Make a mental note of items of interest and see how the prices for similar products compare between vendors.
- Ask the farmer/vendor questions. Does he or she have recipes or tips on storing, preparing, and cooking the produce? Were conventional farming methods used or organic? What produce does the farmer think he will bring next week?
Farmers markets are a wonderful way to support your community and to be eco-friendly at the same time. Buying locally produced products is cost-efficient and reduces the ill effects on the environment that occur with transporting these goods across the country. Produce from farmers markets tend to be fresh and many individuals who patron these markets claim that their purchases taste better. To find a farmers’ market near you, click here.
Do you shop at farmers markets? What has your experience been? What are your favorite finds from a farmers market? Share with us, we want to know!