I love shopping at the farmer's market! In fact, the farmer's market is the only place I shop for food on a weekly basis. I buy most of my produce there. Looking for a farmer's market in your area? Check localharvest.org.
Shopping at the Farmer's Market: Eco-novice's Top Ten Tips
Shop at the right time of day. If you want the best prices, go shortly before the close of the market, when farmers are often willing to haggle, especially if you buy a large amount. If you want the best selection, go in the morning. Which brings me to my next point...
Find out what time the market really opens. Officially, my farmer's market opens at 9 am and closes at 1 pm each Saturday. After shopping there for nearly a year, I found out that almost all the farmers showed up by 7 am in the summer, and 8 am in the winter. Before I figured this out, by the time I showed up at 9 am or 10 am, farmers were often out of items they had in limited quantity. Now I go at 8 am, especially if raspberries are in season.
Always go when it rains. When the weather is bad and turnout is poor, farmers are often willing to make deals.
Get to know the farmers. For me, having a personal relationship with the producers of my food is one of the top benefits of shopping at the farmer's market. For the stands I regularly purchase from, I know where the farms are, how long the family has owned the farm and how many generations have farmed it, and where their ancestors immigrated from. Also, is you make yourself known to the farmers, they will consider you a "regular," which has certain perks for you and your kids. It is also really convenient to have the farmer know you well enough that you can say, "I want to can tomatoes next week. Could you bring me 20 pounds and give me a bulk discount?" And have them bring you 20 pounds of tomatoes in a large crate and let you take the crate and return it the following week.
Ask the farmers about how they grow their food. There are two certified organic farmers at my market, and they sell such a variety of produce that I do almost all of my shopping just from them. But I've asked the other farmers if they use pesticides and fertilizers, because sometimes small family farms don't use these chemicals but can't afford to be certified organic. Or they might do something in between organic and conventional. For example, I asked one farmer if they sprayed their peaches and nectarines. He told me they sprayed the trees, but never the fruit. Which is definitely preferable to sprayed trees and fruit. Remember that if you can't buy everything organic, prioritize shopping organic for the dirty dozen (generally, fruits and vegetables with thin skins that you can eat).
Ask what is coming into season next. I love that shopping at the farmer's market takes all the mental effort out of shopping locally and in season. But shopping at the farmer's market also means that you will not be buying tomatoes in January. However, I find that there is a certain joy in waiting for strawberries or zucchini or tomatoes to come into season instead of eating the tasteless wonders at the grocery store year-round. Anticipation is half the fun of the farmer's market. Around February, I ask the farmers almost every week, "when are you going to have tomatoes?" And then in June I start asking, "when are you going to have grapes?"
Try new things and ask the farmers and other shoppers how to use them. I tried kale for the first time this year. I know all you super-fooders have been making kale chips for years, but I never bought it because I really didn't know what to do with it. I ended up steaming it briefly and adding it to my stir fry after consulting with a few folks at the market. Delicious (and nutritious).
Learn to cook using what you have. I used to plan the dishes I wanted to make during the week, then make a grocery list based on the recipes, then shop for my list at the grocery store. Now I keep my pantry stocked with non-perishables, and cook based on what is in season at the farmer's market. Look for cookbooks that recognize seasonality or allow you to cook using whatever you have on hand (click here to read about some of my favorite cookbooks).
Bring your own bags. One of the big pros of shopping at the farmer's market is the lack of packaging (and no annoying tiny stickers on the produce!). By bringing your own reusable shopping and produce bags, you can purchase groceries without creating any plastic waste. I also learned from Plastic-free Beth that many farmers take back and reuse packaging, such as berry baskets and egg cartons. I was thrilled to learn that I can return my strawberry and raspberry baskets for reuse at my market.
Take your kids. Generally, I hate shopping, and I especially hate shopping with kids in tow. Yet shopping with my kids at my small farmer's market is always positive experience. I don't have to put them in a cart (my market is small enough that I let my 3 and 5-year-old wander a bit as long as they stay where I can see them), and I love for them to see all that fresh produce, and meet the farmers that grow it, and try the delicious, fresh, healthy samples.
One more important one: Bring cash!
Veteran farmer's market shoppers, what are you tips for getting the most out of the farmer's market?
Top Ten Tuesday