Here’s a list of helpful tips for your next trip to the farmer’s market:
1. Bring cash. Some markets are starting to work with plastic, but generally cash is preferred.
2. Bring your own bags including different sizes. It should be obvious why reusing a bag every time is better for the environment. It also helps farmers save a little bit of money if they don’t have to give out a plastic bag with every transaction. The different sizes are good for things like green beans or cherry tomatoes – they can help contain smaller items.
3. The early bird gets the worm. I find it best to get to a market early before it’s overcrowded, or too hot, or all the good produce is picked over.
4. Plan your menu and meals before going. This will hopefully prevent you from overbuying and then your fresh produce going to waste because you couldn’t eat it in time. Fresh produce can be so intoxicating, and so make sure you know what you really need.
5. Related to the last point, have a plan for the produce when you get home. For example, I sometimes put my lettuce or kale in water (like flowers!) to keep them perkier. Sometimes, I will cook everything right away and then have leftovers for the week; this way I know it’s been used and not going to waste waiting for me to do something with it.
6. Talk to your farmers. Ask them questions. Having them describe the produce, especially if it’s foreign to you. It’s one of the best ways to find a new favorite vegetable. I also sometimes ask about their sustainable farming practices. It’s always good to look for organic, while some farmers practice organic methods without ever officially getting certified. I am mainly looking for farmers that use minimal sprays and chemicals. And I steer away farmers who get angry when I ask these kinds of questions, or don’t have a good response when I do!
7. Know what’s in season and know what’s grown in your area. I have been to markets where they are selling oranges in Chicago. I know we don’t have orange trees in the Midwest, so then I am suspicious of where they are really getting their product. Often, you can deduct what’s in season by visiting multiple farmer stalls at the market. If everyone has tomatoes, then there’s a good chance it’s tomato season. Oh, and why buy seasonally? Eat a tomatoes in August and then eat one in May, and your taste buds will know why!
8. I usually walk the whole market before making any purchases. I first want to know what’s available, who’s got the best looking product, and who’s got the best price.
9. Related to #8, I like to practice a little bit of socialism and spread the wealth – meaning I try to spend my money with multiple farmers instead of just one – as a way to support them all. Local food and local farmers are vital to a healthy, sustainable food system so I want patronize them – not big supermarkets.
10. Have fun and make it an adventure. Try to visit all of the markets near you. If you always go to same one, you might be missing out on other amazing items. And try new things. Eat “weird and unknown” varieties of potatoes, beans, carrots, leafy greens, beets, onions, etc. In a world where Big Ag wants to homogenize everything and only feed you one bland varietal, the farmer’s market is great way to discover new, exciting and tasty produce.