While it is still spring, a lot of us are already getting excited about the summer season. Summer is all about slushies, iced teas, pool parties and cool lemonades. All that is exciting but what really knocks regular home cooks off their socks is, of course, the farmer’s market. With the warm days of summer approaching fast, the farmers are all preparing their produce!
During summer, the display of fresh produce will be in full swing with farmers from all over town showing off their best and most colorful fruits and vegetables. Farmers are gathering up to stock the market bountifully and they ought to display their best groceries. Good for us home cooks because we can indulge ourselves in the delightful joy of cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a glorious season that does not last long so we shall take the full advantage while it does.
All that being said, for many of you it can be your first time to the farmer’s market. Well, the idea of going to a farmer’s market for the first time will excite you but there is some amount of prep work involved. There are certain things that you must know or keep in mind before going to the farmer’s market.
Not only will these help you make your purchase better but they will enhance your experience as a whole. Even if you are not a novice in trading at the farmer’s market, these tips are essential to know. They will come useful and handy for anyone who goes to the market regularly or wishes to go in the future.
Bring Your Own Bags and Carriers
You will notice that people who visit the farmer’s market regularly carry their own shopping bags. This is because they are well aware that it is necessary. Many stalls offer bags but they are quite flimsy and cannot withstand substantial weight. Other stalls provide brown paper bags which is risky to carry because they have the chance to tear up due to the condensation of damp or wet food.
Also, carrying a lot of paper bags will because you discomfort and make your shopping experience harder. In conclusion, it is quintessential that you carry your own bag before leaving your house for the farmer’s market. It is pretty obvious that all of us do have a stash of used bags lying in our house. So better make good use of it. This will also help the environment by reusing and recycling. One simple task that leads to so many benefits!
Many countries are banning plastic bags already so you can choose to carry a cloth bag made of good quality material. A good tote will also be suitable for the work. In fact, many farmers market sell tote bags in a stand at the entrance. They are perfectly suitable for this purpose in terms of color and design. Brown, black and grey are commonly preferred colors because they do not show the dirt. These totes are sturdy and long lasting. Few even have food imprints on them or classy food-related quotes. Totes are a great way to carry groceries.
If you are not a regular shopper but rather plan your week ahead and buy in bulk, you may want to invest in a cart or wheel wagon. It is not unusual. Many shoppers out there carry wheel wagons or carts and they seem very useful. This is a perky bonus if you live near the market as it will be easier to carry back home. You do not have to worry about carrying many bags but simply stock up all your purchase in the wagon at once.
However, you must ensure safety and be careful for those walking around you and the stalls while pushing around the trolley. If you want this extra benefit then you must also ensure that it does not cause others any trouble.
Bring Extra Cash and Change
This is another crucial thing to remember before heading out towards the farmer’s market – carry cash and not card. It is something many have learned the hard way by rushing to the ATM booth every now and then. In doing so you will actually be charged more.
The farmer’s market is not your local grocery store where you will find a card swipe machine and can pay using your credit or debit card. By luck, you may find a couple of stalls that provide the option but it is rarely the case. Therefore, it is best to carry cash so you do not have to make rounds to the ATM machine unnecessarily.
Not only is it important to bring cash but you should keep sufficient change as well. The stall keepers will really appreciate this as they might run out of change. Often times they do not have change because this is not their everyday business or work. Especially, if you visit the stall during rush hour, having changes in your pocket will be of your benefit. In this way, you can purchase and pay quicker and avoid the rush.
Plan Your Budget and Prepare for Contingency
Before going to the farmer’s market, or any market place for that case, you should have a budget in your mind. Mentally prepare for what you are going to buy and how much it may cost you. Now, you will know precisely how much money to carry.
To avoid forgetfulness and be more organized, it is better to list down the things you ought to buy. In that way, you can just match with your list, buy, and tick off from the list one after the other. Nevertheless, even after setting a fixed budget, you should plan for a bit of spontaneity.
Often times you will find things you did it expect to but really want to buy. For example, the strawberries coming out earlier one season, or the mangoes ripening too soon in summer. At instances like these, we cannot help but buy the products that are first in season. In addition, do we not all do this when it comes to shopping? We go for the purpose of buying a couple of products but end up buying a dozen. Thus, it is a good idea to just plan and stay ahead of your budget by carrying extra cash and change.
Know Your Seasons Right and Ask Questions
Before going to a farmer’s market, you should do some basic ground research. Knowing your season right and which produce is found best at what season will help you decide on your list of products to buy. For example, strawberries are best during early spring but you do not want to buy them during summer. Similarly, ripe mangoes taste best during the mid-summer but become mushy as we enter late summer.
Basically, if you do your background research while at home before going to the market, you will know exactly what to expect. Consequently, you will spend lesser time thinking and deciding at each stall and more time shopping. Knowing and understanding your local seasonal fruits and vegetable will keep you on the right track. Go around the stalls, take your time and assess the quality of fruits and vegetables that are displayed. Soon enough you will know what is good and which ones are not up to the mark.
You can also do some meal planning at home and buy the produce accordingly. If you are very health conscious regarding your food intake and your family’s, proper meal planning will help you track your calories and nutrition intake.
If you do not want to google about what is in season and what is not, that is totally fine. Just ask around! Ask local people who visit the farmer’s market regularly about what to expect at which season. Alternatively, if you go to the farmer’s market during the early hours while it is less crowded, you can ask the farmers at the stalls. They will know best what is available during which season. As they are the growers of the produce themselves, they will give you the best advice.
Furthermore, you may also ask them about their favorite recipes. Ask them how they like to cook their pumpkins and sweet potatoes or what they like to serve their berries with. You never know; their family favorite recipe might turn to one of your favorites! The farmers will be glad to share their recipes and advise you.
Keep it Simple and Fresh!
One of the prime reasons why the farmer’s market seems so attractive and enjoyable is the fact that farmers grow the produce locally and fresh. You are aware of the fact that this is not everyday commercial business to sell in bulk. Home growers and farmers grow in little quantities and sell in small amounts. They do not overload the fruits and vegetables with pesticides, insect killers and other chemicals that are harmful to the environment and your health. As a result, this is your second best source of fresh food if you are not a home grower.
You may have noticed most vegetables come attached with some amount of dirt. Do not cringe seeing it. These local farmers are providing you with the freshest foods you can find in their raw state. Yes, you will have to take the extra effort to thoroughly clean, wash and soak them. However, it is worth the extra effort; the taste and nutrition content make up for it. You will notice that even with the same recipe, food made from fresh produce tastes better than the ones bought from the grocery aisle of the supermarket.
While cooking with fresh greens and vegetables like these, try to keep the recipe simple and at a bare minimum. Make the flavors shine out and do not overdo with spices killing their natural flavors. For examples, if you are making pumpkin soup then keep it simple with whole chunks of pumpkin and little amounts of the essential spices like salt, pepper and nutmeg.
On the other hand, if you want a broccoli and cheese soup during the last of spring, then simply steam your broccoli instead of blitzing them in the blender. Let the natural flavors speak for themselves. As mentioned earlier, you can ask your farmer how best to cook it and try the recipe!
Get the Best Deals
Of course, the farmers’ stands often have a chalkboard displaying lucrative deals; that is for everyone. However, did you know that there are certain tricks that can get you the best deals on a regular basis? Yes! Knowing your farmer’s market well can help you enjoy these special deals. Firstly, take note of the hour you are visiting. In most cases, according to peoples’ opinions, if you visit during the early or late hours, you get the best deals. However, this can vary from market to market. Ideally, the rule of thumb is, the lesser the rush, the better deals you get.
So while you are still new to the scene of trading in the farmer’s market, go around walking in there for the first few days. If you have the time then discover the stalls and take note of when there is little rush. And finally, when you start making actual purchases, you know best when to go!
It is a good idea to go early during the first hours. The produce at that time comes very fresh and you get the freshest deals. It is also a good idea to do so because you can come back home early and start preparing your lunch with the fresh produce. Cooking this would be better than waiting until the next day when it becomes stale.
Often times, the special items that are limited sell out very fast. You may not find them by the time you go. For example, you made a visit to the farmer’s market after conquering a lengthy car ride and traffic, only to find that the persimmons you intended to buy were already sold out. Very disappointing! Rather start early and get your hands on them before anyone else does. However, if you are going to buy regular items, then going late might reap more benefits.
When it is almost time to wrap up and farmers still have produce left in stock, in most cases they would rather sell them off than carry them back home. Because of this, often times they are provided at a discounted amount. These farmers sell to earn a living and they will try to sell their day’s groceries in every way they can. Some farmers’ markets may also provide discounts during specific hours of the day. Keep note of such discounts and the hours your local market provides them at.
Another clever way to get discounts is to buy in bulk. When fruits and vegetables are at a seasonal peak, you can buy them in bulk and stock them up for later use. If you are worried about them rotting then there are many ways to preserve food at home. You will likely find many articles by surfing on the internet.
Likewise, you can also ask your local farmer how best to store them. They will give you the perfect suggestion. During peak times, the harvest is flourishing so you will get them in plentiful and in their best version. Also, if you buy in bulk regularly from a specific farmer, you are likely to develop a good bonding with that person. As a result, you can snatch up some special discounts as a loyal customer. Therefore, this is the last tip to get the best deals; although not always possible, try to buy produce from the same stand every time.
Beware of Lucrative Discounts
All these lucrative offers will seem alluring to you. However, there are some things you should be careful about. There are two important things you should keep in mind while hunting for discounts. First, do not go around asking for discounts to the farmers. If lower prices are worth offering, farmers will offer them. These farmers carry on the entire process of growing, harvesting, caring and selling.
In short, they single-handedly take care of the entire supply chain, marketing and selling of the produce. This is a tedious task with a lot of labor work involved. Asking for discounts will just annoy them and you will not end up getting a good bargain. These farmers sell to earn a living and not for profit. So be kind to them and do not bargain. Instead, building a good relationship may bring you luck and get you loyalty discounts!
Another thing you may want to take care of while trying to get a good bargain is that, discounts can be misleading. Attractive offers can be a way to sell off those products that are on the verge of being thrown away or are very near their expiry dates. So be sure to check these products before paying your bill. Often times, you may have plans to cook them on that very day when you bought them. In that case, it is a win-win situation for both parties; the buyer and seller.
Know the Difference
Taking a trip to the farmer’s market and not knowing the difference between the terms “locally grown” and ‘organically grown” can be embarrassing. In this case as well, you should do your desk research before going to the market. Locally grown and organically grown are completely two different terms with distinct meanings.
With locally grown, you are looking for products that were grown by the farmers in their fields at your local area. This means that the products are not sourced from elsewhere and the farmers take full responsibility of growing them. Not necessarily in a field, in case of smaller produce, they can come from their own vegetable patch, herb garden or fruit trees.
In case of organically grown, there was more care and caution while harvesting them. Most times, all natural produce from the ground or trees do contain some amount of harmful chemicals. To keep the vegetables and fruits fresh for longer and to prevent them from insects and pests, chemicals are sprayed with these. These harmful chemicals include growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, and antibiotics. Additionally, they can also be genetically engineered, irradiated or genetically modified.
It is not entirely the farmer’s intention to add these to your food produce but rather it is the nature of the food itself. As fresh foods are more vulnerable to rotting and expiring fast. However, when it comes to organically grown produce, there are lesser risks of these entering your food as great caution is taken. That is why organically grown food comes with a higher price tag. It is the cost of the extra effort and hard work that goes into growing them.
Organically grown are of two types: simply organic and certified organic. The cost of achieving a certificate for growing organically is very high so that is hard to find. Nevertheless, many farmers go through the effort of growing organically for nature’s goodness.
You might also want to make sure how much of it is actually grown organically. Some offer 100% organically grown which means there is zero amount of harmful chemicals present. Others do not provide as much of an assurance. If you are not sure about which are locally grown and which are organically grown, then just ask the farmer. They do not mind saying. Most items in the farmer’s market are locally grown but very few are organically grown. In other words, not all locally grown produce are organic and vice versa.
A Final Word of Advice
We hope all these tips regarding the farmer’s market will be helpful to you. Keep these in mind and you are ready to go to the wonderful carnival of fresh food. Remember, a farmer’s market benefits the economy as a whole. We as consumers are able to get fresh produce, the farmers earn a living and all of us are able to enjoy good food!
- 15 Benefits Of Shopping At A Local Farmer’s Market, Huffpost
- This Is the Best Time to Go to the Farmers Market, Taste of Home