Shopping at the farmer’s market. Come on. Everyone else is doing it. Don’t you want to do it to?

Finding a farmer's market

If you don't know where your closest market is, there are some websites that will help you locate one.

Arming yourself

There are some things that you will need to take with you to make your trip successful.

  • Cash - Most of the vendors at farmer's markets work on a cash only basis.
  • Reusable bags – Sure, the vendors will have plastic bags for you to carry your food, but taking your own bags helps the environment and saves the vendors a little money.
  • Your own coffee mug – Most markets don't have just produce, meats and flowers. Many of the larger ones have local coffee houses, bakeries, and crafters set up tables, too. When I get to the market at 8am on Saturday morning, I head right for the coffee table first.

Arriving early

Things can sell out quickly at the farmer's market, so if you're looking for something specific, get there early. I've seen fresh flowers gone after the first half hour of the market. The first week that corn is in season creates a frenzy that you have to see to believe.

However, arriving right before closing time may have its advantages, too. Some vendors may cut their prices so they don't have to haul everything home. This doesn't always happen, but if you can't get to the market until later in the day, you may get some bargains.

Making the rounds

Do a quick once around before you begin purchasing. One vendor may have zucchini at 2/$1 another may have them at 3/$1. Or you may spend all your money before arriving at a vendor who has something that no one else had. Doing a quick survey of what is offered and the prices the different vendors have before you begin to purchase is a wise idea.

Asking questions

If you’re interested in buying only what is in season, buying only organic, or buying only locally, you'll have to question the vendors about their products. Just because something is at the farmer's market does not mean it’s in season, organic or local. I know that the bananas, lemons, limes and grapes sold at my farmer's markets are definitely not local and never will be.

Don't be afraid to ask questions about the items being sold. If a vendor doesn't want to answer your questions, move on to the next one.

Some questions to ask:

  • Where was this grown?
  • How was it grown?
  • When was this picked?
  • How far did this item travel from where it was grown to this market?
  • What conditions did the hens live in who grew these eggs?

Many vendors are also more than happy to give you advice as long as they don't have a long line of customers to attend to. I’ve had organic farmers happily answer my questions about my own little organic garden. People who are passionate about what they do are usually passionate about talking about it.

Taking the kids

It's a great idea to take your kids. My kids will often eat vegetables or fruits they helped pick out at the farmer's market that they would never eat if I just brought it home from the grocery store. Give them a dollar or two and tell them that they can spend it on whatever type of produce they want as long as they promise to eat it in the next couple of days.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to plan your trip to the farmers market
Not sure how to navigate your local farmer's market or even how to find where one is? All you need to know for your first trip is right here.