Farmer's markets are excellent for seasonal shopping and supporting local farms, but they can be overwhelming. Follow these tips and learn how to become a farmer's market master.
1. Have a game plan, know what is in season
While it can be fun to just hang out at Farmer's markets, if you want to be an expert, you're going to need to plan out your trip. This means knowing what fruits and vegetables are in season and planning out what you will be able to use, to avoid waste.
Do your research! The US Department of Agriculture has a list (here) of what is in season. That way you won't try to buy pears in the summer or cherries in the winter!
It is also important to pay attention to regional products. Know what products your region is known for and put that on your list. Nothing is worse than coming back from the farmer's market with a product grown across the country! You can get that at the grocery store.
2. Ask questions, be friendly
How often do you get to interact with the people that actually grow your food? Take this time to say hello and ask advice. They will know what is ready to eat now and what you can keep for later.
Before you dive into shopping, check out the information booth. Here, you can usually get a map of the grounds, information about the farms involved and oftentimes recipes or cooking tips. The Public Market in Rochester, N.Y. has great resources every week, including veggie valets (to hold your produce until you're done shopping), cooking demos and tons of recipes! Check it out here.
3. Go early, or settle with scraps
A lot of people think that showing up at the close of the farmer's market means discounts, but it usually means that you'll be left with the rejected produce. Discounts are nice, but remember, farmer's markets are intended to support local farms and farmers, not swindle them.
If you show up early, chances are the crowds will be smaller and you get the first pick of products. Sellers will also have more time to talk about their produce and offer tips for picking and cooking.
4. Bring a bag or basket and a wallet-full of small bills
Be sure that you pack appropriately for your trip to the farmer's market. You will always end up buying more than you expect, so bring a large tote bag or a basket. If you plan on buying any dairy, meat or other perishables, bring a color to keep them cold. Farmer's markets often have plants and planters available as well, so clear out your trunk and consider bringing a rolling cart to lug your market-finds home. Check out Shape.com's collection of farmer's market totes you'll want to flaunt.
Most markets only accept cash and prefer small bills. It makes transactions easier and helps cashiers with making change throughout the day. Don't be surprised if a booth isn't able to break anything over a 20-dollar bill.
5. Eat first!
This is a great rule to follow for any food shopping. Be sure to eat at home or hit the prepared-food area first because shopping on a empty stomach can be dangerous! You will end up buying a lot more than what you planned on because your hunger takes over your decision-making process!
Most farmer's markets feature local restaurants or chefs making fresh and tasty food, so don't miss out.
6. Buy in bulk (but only what you'll use)
The best deals come when you buy in bulk (another reason to bring a rolling cart!). Map out your trip and decide what you can store, freeze or put into recipes so that you can put your market-finds to the best use. Most fruits and vegetables will freeze well, so that you can enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies all year round! Design Mom's Gabriellee Blair has some great tips on how to properly freeze produce.
Are you a farmer's market expert? Share your tips below and tweet us your photos from your next market excursion @Grainful!