The farmers market is one of the best parts of summer with freshly cut flowers, baked goods, and all the fruits and veggies you can dream of. But before you go, there are a few secrets that will make the most of your time and money. These 15 tips are from farmers who sell their wares at the market, week in and week out.
1. Try something new
Many people stick to the same items at the market, but if that's your pattern, you could be missing out on something great. Challenge yourself to try at least one new thing. Maybe you’ll love it.
2. Follow your market on social media
Some farmers markets will feature vendors or have deals of the week. Like your local market on Facebook or check the website to know what's new since your last visit.
3. If you want to be green, learn to eat them
Greens are a huge part of seasonal eating, yet they still intimidate many people. Use greens instead of tortillas for wraps or add them to your favorite soup or casserole. Greens are usually available all season, so they're worth the time it takes to figure out what works for you.
4. Be selective
Don't be afraid to pick your own produce. Some stands will have it pre-measured and ready to go, but if you want to choose your own, just ask. Most vendors encourage it. (But remember not to squeeze too hard because it could bruise the fruit and veggies.)
5. Get double the value
If you're looking to stretch your dollar, look for root vegetables because you can use the top and the bottom. For example, kohlrabi, beets, and radishes all have edible greens on top.
6. Know your farmer by name
This might be the single best thing you can do. Find a favorite stand, get to know the people who work there, and go back every week. There's no better way to know exactly where your food comes from. Pretty soon, they'll be giving you insider tips and sharing recipes.
7. Learn what organic means
Some stands will advertise themselves as organic farms, but the term "organic" gets thrown around a lot these days. Talk to the workers at the stand and ask them if what they sell is organic; then ask them what the term means to them. If you're paying a premium price for organic, you deserve to know their definition.
8. Ask about frequent buyer cards
Some vendors have punch cards or frequent buyer cards, rewarding loyal customers with deals.
9. Pay attention to what's in season
Here's an easy way to get the most bang for your buck. When you buy fruit and veggies during the height of their season, then you're going to save money.
10. Buy in bulk
If you're looking to preserve through canning, freezing or drying, then ask your local farmers if they sell in bulk. They might not be able to sell you bulk right then, but if they know ahead of time, they can plan for next time.
11. Explore worker-share programs
A worker-share program is where farms exchange fruits and veggies for your work. Not all farms have this, but it's worth asking about if you're on a budget.
12. Ask about a CSA
Some farms will have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which is a win-win for both the farmer and customer. You usually sign up for the season, and then get a regular delivery of in-season produce. Most programs are available as weekly or bi-weekly, and you can pick your veggies up at either the market or another designated location. By signing up for a CSA, you can save money and try veggies you might not otherwise buy.
13. Don't be fooled
Make sure that the produce at a market stand was grown and harvested locally. If you see something out of season — melons or tomatoes weeks before they should be ready — then ask where they came from, when they were picked, and other simple questions that the farmers should know.
14. Respect the prices
Leave the haggling for flea markets. These vendors are not getting rich, so offering them less for their produce can be an insult. For the most part, they’re just trying to pay their workers and themselves a living wage.
15. Show up on time, but not early
Vendors need time to set up their stands and get ready for the market, so don't show up before the market starts to scout or try to get in early sales. However, you should show up on time because if the vendor has a limited supply of an item, you can be sure it'll go quick.
Thanks to farmer gals April Yuds with LotFotL Community Farm in Wisconsin and Lisa Cox with Sheila Bird Farms in Wyoming for providing these tips.