A traditional farmers market is a place where farmers who grow or raise agricultural products, usually in small batches or acreage, sell directly to consumers.
Typically you find fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and grain products.
By shopping at a farmers market you are getting healthier food, supporting small business, the local economy and the environment. It is a winning plan for everyone.
Now that we know we are going to a farmers market, let’s look at 15 Eat Clean Tips for shopping at a farmers market.
Get To Know The Farmer
The great thing about a farmers market are the farmers who are local small business people instead of large corporations.
You get a chance to meet and talk to the person who grew or raised the products you are going to eat.
Use this as an opportunity to discover the passion they have for what they do and how they farm. Ask how they got into farming. Was it a family business or did they seek this profession.
Ask about organic practices. Small farmers usually cannot afford the process of being USDA Certified Organic but that does not mean they are not following organic practices and producing organic food. Without the certification they can not legally label their products as certified organic.
Ask if the farmer participates in any CSA’s or other farmers markets. Most do. That way if your schedule changes or you just can’t make it to your favorite farmers market that week you have alterntive options.
Does the farmer have a website, Facebook page or other ways to keep up to date on what they are selling.
See if the farmer allows visits to their farm and take advantage of an opportunity to go see how they farm. It could make for a great day trip excursion and learning experience, especially for children.
Find out if the farmer takes advance orders for upcoming items.
Be sure and respect the farmers time. They are running a business and need to make sales, especially during peak times. Going early or when the market is not as busy are the best times to talk to the farmers.
Near the closing time of the market, is probably also not a good time. The farmers need to pack and get home.
For a fun read on what it is like to be a seller at a farmers market get Blithe Tomato by Mike Madison.
When is the last time you where at a conventional grocery store and the person who grew the food was there. Knowing the care, attention and thought that went into growing food, may make eating it more enjoyable.
Get To Know Your Market
Whether it is your first time or you are a seasoned veteran, the first thing you should do is take a lap around the market. You want to get to know what is new, available, fresher and prices.
Just because a farmer is near the entrance does not mean they are better, cheaper or really anything that may make a difference with who you do business.
Look to see where the chefs are making purchases for their restaurants. They are not looking for something that is just ok, they are looking for the best.
Bargaining is not part of the normal farmers market. However some farmers may cut prices on some items especially later in the day so they don’t have to pack and take it or on bad weather days.
Get to know the whole market. Once you have a handle on the lay of the land, then go in for the purchase.
You will walk away with better results.
Is It Local
Farmers markets are a great source for fresh local produce. Produce loses nutritional value over time. Local produce was probably picked only a day or two before it is for sale, so it will taste better and be healthier for you.
Local produce is also more sustainable as it reduces the cost and use of energy and resources needed to ship products from outside the area.
Make sure it is grown or raised by the farmer and not purchased from a wholesaler or distributer.
Remember, the goal is to buy as local as possible.
It is important to find out if the market allows sellers who do not produce what they sell. You need to be careful and verify what you buy is local, otherwise it may no different than what is at a conventional grocery store.
Ask the farmer where the food was grown. Farmers enjoy talking about their farms and their practices.
Take a look at the boxes in and behind their stand. That should give you a good idea of where the produce was grown.
If you see the same boxes that you see at a conventional grocery store, it is probably not local.
Shop Early For The Best Selection
At the start of the market is when the farmers have the most produce available and therefore the greatest selection. They are not getting deliveries as the day progresses.
Shopping early is especially important in the first and last week of the season for an item because the supply will be lower.
You also avoid crowds by going earlier, skipping lunchtime and right after work
Know What Is In Season
If you are not sure what is in season in your area try looking at Harvest Calendar before you head to the farmers market.
If you are already at the farmers market just ask. Be sure and ask what is coming up next week or month so you can start building items into your Eat Clean Meal Plans.
Select Whole Vegetables
Try to buy producer that still have the greens, such as root vegetables like carrots, beets and radishes. They will last longer and the greens are eidable/usable and usually more flavorful.
How To Tell If An Item Is Ripe
Shopping at a Farmers Market is intended to get the freshest fruits and vegetables available in your area.
The easiest way to get ripe produce, if you are not sure, is to simply ask the farmer which would the farmer pick and why.
Let the farmer do it or help you, until you get the knowledge and hang of it. Farmers are happy to make sure you understand how to select what you buy. They want you to be a regular customer.
Don’t randomly squeeze things, unless you know that is the best way to determine if it is ripe.
A lot of the produce will be heirloom, which is not necessarily uniform nor will it look as pretty as what you are used to buying at a traditional grocery store. On the other hand they are always richer in taste. So don’t back away from these varieties and let the farmer help you.
Here is a great list on How To Choose Ripe Produce at a Farmers Market.
Best Things To Buy At A Farmers Market:
- Anything grown with organic practices – remember it probably won’t be certified organic
- Grass Fed, hormone and antibiotic free meats and dairy.
Try Something New
A farmers market is a great opportunity to try something you never knew about or just have never considered.
If there are samples give them a try.
If not, just ask. Usually a sample is no problem and it gives you an opportunity to talk to the farmer.
Ask how they prepare, use and store it. This is a great way to add something new to your meal plans.
Instead of the usual orange carrots, try some purple carrots. Did you know that purple carrots are higher in antioxidants.
So do not just shop what you know. We think you will be pleasantly surprised to learn what you have been missing.
Buy In Bulk
A flat is usually a better deal than a pint. Eat Clean encourages cooking for more than one meal at a time. As you get more comfortable with cooking meals in advance, buying in bulk can help lower your food costs.
Keep in mind what produce looks like will probably have no affect on its taste and are more likely to be cheaper.
Ask how long the item can be properly stored and the best way to do that.
You should also consider freezing, canning, pickling and sauces which are great ways to eat fruits and vegetables when thay are not in season.
Be careful though, savings from buying in bulk can quickly disapper, if you won’t beable to store it long enough to use before it goes bad.
Bring small plastic bags to put indiviudal items in and bigger re-usable bags to carry everything.
Don’t forget a cooler or insulated bag for thoes items that need to be kept cold.
Try to organize your purchasing trip through the market to buy heavy and large stuff near the end. It may be a good idea to bring a pull cart.
Bring Small Bills
Take small bills and change.While more farmers have credit/debit capabilities, that adds a layer of expense and time that cash does not. Be sure to keep your money accessible, in an easy to reach/use pocket and leave your wallet at home. Less things to carry the better.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Depending on the size of the market and how long you will be there, you may also want to consider sunscreen, a hat and a water bottle.
Spread The Word
Tell others about the markets, farmers and vendors you like. By spreading the word, you help to build the community.
For the farmers it is their livliehood. They need to sell enough to justify participating at the market. If they cannot they will have to go somewhere else or find other ways to sell their products.
Explore, it does not have to be a race. Use the time to interact with the farmers and other shoppers. Go with a friend or use it as an opportunity to just enjoy the weather or get in some walking exercise. Some markets have great prepared food vendors or music, why not turn shopping into a fun experience. Walking a market has golden opportunities to keep it from becoming just another dreaded item on your never ending to-do list.
So why are you waiting. Put together a meal plan, make your shopping list and get out there and have some fun.