When you aren’t able to grow all the food you want to eat in your own garden, the next best stop is the farmers market. Not only is it a place where you can find the very best local food—locally grown produce, sustainably raised meats, and artisan breads, jams and cheeses—it can be a charming, outdoorsy way to spend a Saturday morning. Before you embark on your next farmers market outing, take a quick peek at these five tips to help you get off on the right foot and help you get more bang for your buck.
1. Bring The Right Gear
Spontaneity has its place in life, but you’ll want to plan ahead before you hit the farmers market. Don’t just run out the door in a pair of stylish-but-uncomfortable shoes. Farmers markets are usually held outdoors and—depending on the number of vendors—may cover a large area. In order to take advantage of everything they have to offer, you can expect to do a lot of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and maybe even a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off and stay cool.
You’ll also want to think about what you’re planning to buy. Will you be purchasing vegetables? Zucchini, acorn squash, tomatoes, maybe even a pumpkin? Your purchases will get heavy—fast—so bring appropriately-sized bags to help you haul all your incredible finds, or bring a small cart or a kid’s wagon. (And, of course, you’ll want to bring cash. While some farmers and markets are beginning to offer credit card options, it can sometimes be an added expense you don’t want to burden your farmer with.)
2. Go Early
The best selection will obviously be found when the market first opens, so arriving early will yield the freshest items and the widest variety. The most in-demand products may only be available when the market initially opens, and the produce selection will be at its best early in the day, so you’ll have a better chance of getting exactly what you want. Plan on getting there right when the vendors are ready to start selling.
3. Or Go Late
If you’re not really concerned with choosing from the best selection of veggies, don’t care whether the cucumbers are perfectly unblemished cucumber, and are just looking for a good deal, then you might want to try hitting the farmers market at the end of the day instead of the beginning. As the market gets ready to close, vendors are faced with the option of selling at a reduced price or packing up unsold products to take home. This is the best moment to start haggling. Don’t lowball or criticize—just politely ask vendors if there are any “end of day” discounts. Chances are you’ll both go home satisfied.
4. Take Your Time
Consider taking a “preview” walk through the market to acquaint yourself with the available products and produce. This is just a quick run-through to find out what’s available and compare prices because chances are that you’ll find multiple vendors selling similar items. One may have the lowest price on squash, but his tomatoes might be more expensive than the tomatoes three booths down. This preview gives you an opportunity to narrow down your options before you start making purchases. It may take a little longer, but your wallet will undoubtedly reap the benefits.
5. Explore Multiple Markets
Your neighborhood farmers market may have lots to choose from, but markets in other parts of the city or in neighboring towns can provide you with an even wider shopping selection. Broaden your horizons and check out some farmers markets you don’t usually frequent. You’ll meet new people, find new culinary treasures, and have the chance to explore the sights and sounds of a different area. And, if nothing else, you’ll enjoy a pleasant walk as you browse the tables of colorful fruits and vegetables and breathe in the cheerful smells of fresh flowers and herbs. Not a bad way to spend a day!
About the Author: Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening (Voyageur Press, 2013). She lives on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin with a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Peaches and writes frequently about pets, gardening, and farm life. Visit her online portfolio.