As longtime readers know, I really, really like farmers' markets. For me, it's the total package. I love being outside, surrounded by food and people who love food. I love supporting my local economy and knowing that I'm helping support small farmers and small business. I love smelling tomatoes picked that morning. I love the anticipation of visiting my favorite peach stall and tasting the current offerings. I love coming home with something new.
So in the spirit of spreading the love, here are my tips for you to have your best farmers' market visit:
- Decide on your goals. Do you want to buy the best looking produce and have the most selection, or do you want to go for larger quantities at a discount? Think about what you want to make ahead of time so you have a few ideas to work from. On the flip side, be prepared to be inspired or to learn something new.
- If you want the best quality and the most selection, go as close to the opening of the market as you can. Vendors will have the best selection early, before they start to sell out.
- If you want to get large quantities of produce for preserving (jams, pesto, tomato sauce, etc), then go towards the end of the market. You may not be able to buy exactly what you want (farmers may have sold out of blackberries, for example), so be prepared to be flexible and have several ideas in mind. Typically, near the end of the day, farmers will want to get rid of their perishables, so you should be able to pay somewhat less money per pound/flat/bunch. Pro tip: for your sanity, don't buy more to preserve than you can reasonably accomplish. For example, last week I bought basil for pesto, berries, and peaches. I did not buy tomatoes to make sauce or paste with. Just some for eating. Maybe next week I'll tackle tomatoes. Know your limits!
- Be prepared to negotiate. For example, most advertised prices are for "normal" amounts, like $3/basket of raspberries or 3 baskets for $7. If you ask, most farmers will quote you better prices as the quantity goes up, like $12 for a half flat or $20 for a whole flat. In those instances, everyone wins: the farmer makes a sale, but the customer feels like they got a bargain.
- Don't be stingy when you do haggle. Respect the work, time, and expertise of your farmers. Don't ask for the absurd- it's disrespectful.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions! If buying organic produce is important to you, look for Certified Organic signs. However, keep in mind that not all small farms can afford the accreditation process or choose not to jump through all the hoops. Ask if they are pesticide or spray free. Farmers are also excellent resources for produce preparation ideas. If purple beans or ugly squash catch your eye, ask about the best ways to serve them, or how to tell if the pluots are ripe. Vendors want to you be happy with what you purchase so you keep coming back.
- Bring bags and/or baskets. Reusable shopping bags are a must! If you have a stack of berry baskets from last week or an empty egg carton, bring them with you! Farmers will reuse what they can and thank you for it.
- Dress appropriately. Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, that could be anything from a wide-brimmed sun hat or a rain slicker and gloves. If you're comfortable, you'll be much happier.
- Don't bring your dog. Some markets allow them, but many do not for sanitation reasons. In my experience, even at markets that do allow dogs, they're kind of a pain, both for the owner who's trying to both peruse the produce and mind the dog, and for other market goers who have to potentially deal with any misbehavior or leash entanglements.
- Have a great time! Enjoy being outside. Enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the smells.
Now, friends, what are your tips? What do you look forward to most?