Farmers markets are popping up in more and more cities across the country and it is becoming easier than ever to find local produce in your area. However, going to a farmers market for the first time can be a bit overwhelming! How do you know what to buy? Is it more expensive? What should you bring with you? It’s time to answer your questions and get out to the market!
Why Should I Shop at the Farmers Market?
There are many reasons to shop at the farmers market: it supports local farms and farmers, builds community, connects you to the seasons, and decreases the number of miles that food travels before reaching you. Since food is traveling a shorter distance, it is much fresher because produce is being picked just before arriving at the market. Not only does the produce have more nutrients because it is fresher, but it just simply tastes better!
Is the Produce at the Farmers Market Always Organic?
Organic produce means that the food is grown without the use of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers. Not all produce at the farmers market is organic because it depends on the farm. Many farms at the market are certified organic and will proudly display the organic label on their banner or booth. Some of the smaller farms do practice organic farming methods, but cannot afford to go through the organic certification process. If you are unsure if a farm practices organic farming, ask them!
Is the Farmers Market More Expensive?
This is a tricky question because the answer is both yes and no. If you compare the cost of produce at the farmers market to conventional produce at the grocery store, the produce at the farmers market may cost a little more. However, if you compare the cost of produce at the farmers market to organic produce at the grocery store, the produce at the farmers market can actually be cheaper. Since food is traveling fewer miles and is coming to you directly from the farmer, you are actually getting a better product (because it is local, most likely organic, and much fresher than at the store) for a much better price. When looking at the true cost of food, one cannot simply compare dollar to dollar because that does not take the value of the food into account.
I am often able to find great deals at the farmers market that cost less than the store. Farmers will often discount items at the peak of the season when they are overloaded with one type of vegetable so keep an eye out for deals. You can also save money by buying produce in bulk and freezing or preserving it (this is especially great for seasonal fruit). Some farms also feature bins of discounted produce that is perfectly edible, but have bruises or discoloring.
What Should I bring to the Farmers Market?
Bring your own cloth bags and a rolling cart if you plan to load up.
Bring cash (small bills are best). Since most markets only take cash this is also a great way to plan and stick to your food budget.
Pack for the weather. Bring water, sunglasses, and sunscreen in summer or a coat and umbrella in fall.
Make a day of it and bring your spouse, kids, or friends. (Check with the market to see if they allow pets before bringing any furry friends with you.)
What Should I do When I Arrive at the Market?
Start by walking around and looking at the seasonal items available. Talk to farmers and ask them questions about anything that is unfamiliar. Don’t be afraid to try something new! Farmers markets are a great resource of information about different items. Most importantly, enjoy yourself at the market! Stop and grab lunch from a vendor or watch a street performance.
How do I use What I Purchased?
After visiting the market, set aside some time to go home, clean the produce, and prep some recipes. Since the produce is fresh enjoy it at its peak and don’t let it sit around to go bad. If you are lost on what to do with the items you purchased, research some recipes for inspiration.
How Can I Avoid the Crowds at the Farmers Market?
The market can get busy, particularly mid-day during the summer. Go to the market early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. Most markets are busiest from June through September so if your market is year-round, be sure to support it by going during the slower winter months.
I Don’t Have the Time to Shop at the Farmers Market. Is There Another Option?
Instead of shopping at the farmers market, you can also join a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. Many farms offer CSA shares where you pay ahead of time and they deliver fresh produce to your neighborhood during the growing season. Research local farms in your area to find a CSA that works best for you. This is a great way to enjoy more fresh and local foods while saving yourself time and supporting a local farm in the process.