Tips for Shopping a Farmers Market
Farmers Market Checklist
Before you go:
- Bring reusable bags. Tuck a few reusable shopping bags (with handles) into a pocket; merchants sometimes run out. And you'll be helping the environment.
- Have cash on hand. Credit cards and checks aren't always accepted.
- Dress for comfort. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for the weather.
- Pack a cooler. If you live far away, or plan to be at the market for awhile, bring a cooler for produce. Consider a wheeled cart or travel bag for bulk shopping.
- Go early… Find out the market's hours and plan to arrive at opening time to ensure the best selection. Smartphone app Locavore and website localharvest.org provide market locations and seasonal hours.
- …Or go late. Great deals are often available around closing. Many vendors will lower their price rather than haul their wares home. However, some may be sold out.
- Don't buy the first thing you see. Make a lap to compare quality and prices.
- Make your heavy purchases last.
More Farmers Market Tips
Expect an Experience
You'll be buying produce that's been off the vine just a few hours. But be aware that you won't find everything on your list at bargain prices.
Talk to Farmers
Most vendors are happy to discuss their products and how they raised them, so you can ask them about:
- growing practices, including soil care and chemical use.
- when an item was picked, how to tell if it's ripe and how to properly store it.
- ways to use the food in cooking. Some farmers may have recipes to share.
- estimated time of arrival of a regional favorite, such as sweet cherries, and how its quality looks this year.
Include the Kids
Show them what potatoes and tomatoes look like before becoming French fries and ketchup. It's never too early to reinforce the importance of healthy food. Bring a stroller and drinks, and check for a play area: Some markets have them.
Try Something New
Many vendors offer samples, and it's fun to experiment with a fruit or vegetable you've never tasted.
Introduce yourself and get to know your vendors. Some offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options and can tell you how to get their product when the market is closed. They might even invite you to the farm!
Chef Shares Insider Tips
Come summer, the action in Madison, Wisconsin, is on the Capitol Square, where the largest producer-only farmers market (Dane County Farmers Market) in the country buzzes with masses. In the crowd is Executive Chef Tory Miller, co-proprietor of Madison's nationally recognized L'Etoile restaurant. Known for taking market-fresh ingredients to the next level, Chef Tory dishes out a few pointers.
- Test for freshness. If something is harvested too early or late, you can usually tell by looking at it. But to me, it's all about tasting and sampling.
- For best prices, become a regular. I also buy in large quantities and pay with cash. That lets farmers know every time they see me, I'm going to be buying something. And if I don't, they might be more inclined to lower prices.
- Ask questions. Where is their farm? How long have they been farming? Do they use sprays or pesticides? If so, for how long and what kind?
- It's ok to buy too much. You can pickle or can pretty much anything. I freeze a lot of things, as well as drying and curing.