Shop Smart at the Farmers’ Market

In much of the country, we’ve been enjoying the summer bounty at farmers’ markets for a few months now and are about to enjoy the last few weeks of farm-fresh goodness. (Those of us lucky enough to live in relative warmth year-round can keep enjoying, while the rest of us are already looking forward to next June.) But wherever you live, hopefully you’ll have a chance to head out to a nearby market soon – and stock up on the season’s bounty until your bags are bursting at the seams.

Before you do so, here are some pointers on how to be a better shopper at the farmers’ market. If you follow these tips, you’ll save money and time, avoid the crowds and simply have a more enjoyable experience overall.

Shop early . . .

There’s a benefit to beating the crowd, even if it means rising early on a Saturday morning. You get the first (read: best) pick of everything, and solo time at the stalls with purveyors. The chocolate mint and spiky cardoons you found at the market early this morning? The stragglers will arrive hours later to find they’re sold out.

. . . or shop really late.

If you missed the early shift, try hitting the markets when they’re closing down. Farmers who don’t want to carry produce home with them will be more willing to cut costs and make deals with you to liquidate their inventory.

Come prepared.

This sounds obvious, until you find yourself sunburned, ridden with blisters and short of cash an hour into the shopping session. Be sure to bring large tote bags, storage containers, cash, a hat, a snack — anything you think you’ll need over the course of a few hours, especially if you’re at a larger market.

Turn fruit shopping into social hour.

Bring two types of friends to farmers’ markets: the serious foodies who live to eat, and the ones who know less about food (trust us, even they can’t resist!). The more friends to split snacks and gush over produce with, the more fun!

Get friends and family in on the action.

If you can convince friends and family to go in with you on a case of food, you’re more likely to get a bulk discount. And what’s better than ultra-fresh fruit and vegetables at dirt-cheap prices?

Hit up smaller markets.

While we love the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, it’s one of the most famous greenmarkets in America and it takes place on prime property, so stalls crowd up fast and produce prices can be pretty expensive. We visit for inspiration, but when we’re looking for a bargain, we trek out to smaller, lower-profile markets.

Don’t go overboard.

Before you make every purchase, be sure to visualize how and when you plan to eat it. Buying 10 pounds of corn might sound like a brilliant idea at the time — but not so much when they’re starting to rot a few days later.

Get to know your farmer!

Being a farmer is not a glamorous job, so treat your friendliest farmers as if they’ve got rockstar status and they’ll be good to you, too. One favorite farmer sold us his last carton of tayberries out of the back of his truck. Another kind grower explained how to pick the best of the peach litter.

Don’t shy away from foreign-sounding fruits and vegetables.

The first time we saw garlic scapes, we shied away from buying them because we didn’t know how to prepare them. But greenmarket sellers are all the happier when explaining how to prepare their produce. All you have to do is ask.

Cook simple things.

When you’re buying a ripe, dry-farmed heirloom tomato that was hand-picked off the vine this morning, you’re really doing a disservice to your palate if you try to muddle its flavors with 10 other ingredients. So keep the prep uncomplicated: For tomatoes, we’d suggest a straightforward heirloom salad. When cooking simple things, you’ll get to know each produce variety’s subtle flavor differences, and you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and more time at the table.

 

To market, to market

A farmers’ market is the ideal place to sample the local flavor when you’re traveling, and these famous five are all destinations in and of themselves.
Portland, OR
Local farmers (many organic-certified) offer unique and colorful foods like white eggplant, purple beans and seedless yellow watermelon, as well as baked goods, meats and cheeses.
New York, NY
In a city of foodies that never sleep, you won’t be surprised to find the epitome of farmers’ markets here, with more than 140 vendors selling the finest local goods. Known as much for the people watching as the produce.
San Francisco, CA
If you’ve never experienced a cardoon, pawpaw or purple carrot, this is your chance to purchase all three and get a lesson on what on earth to do with them.
Boulder, CO
Tables are picturesque displays of the latest harvest; boxes and baskets overflow with hearty vegetables, meats, gourmet cheeses and wines, all sold by the farmers who make them.
Austin, TX
With some of the most delicious food in the U.S., this market prides itself on quality fare like super-ripe fruits and vegetables; grass-fed, pasture-raised beef; and fresh milk and cheeses. You may even catch a glimpse of a real, live cowboy.
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