How to Shop Your Local Farmers’ Market

earthday-banner-834x399-013Visiting a local farmers’ market can be a little intimidating. Many new shoppers find themselves lost amongst a vibrant maze of stalls, filled with all kinds of fresh produce that they may not have ever seen before. Even in your best effort, you may leave your first market with a few tomatoes and a glazed expression.

On the other hand, you may arrive home with bundles of fresh produce–and not a clue what to do with it. It is not uncommon for bags of produce go uneaten, which can leave the novice market shopper feeling discouraged. I encourage you, on your next trip to the market, to exercise the habits you keep while grocery shopping: make a food plan. Write a list. Of course, the market is a unique venue to unleash new creativity, so don’t stray from incorporating new and exciting foods into your weekly menus. Find out what’s in season. Stroll the market to see what’s available- there is a lot of delicious stuff that isn’t always obvious.

In an effort to simplify your shopping experience, I have put together a few tips to help make your visit to your local farmers’ market a less stressful and complicated venture. With the right strategies, your market excursion can be both pleasant and productive.

  1.  Shop early. The best selection and the most popular goods go first, and fast! This is particularly true with seasonal specialties, such as berries during the warm summer months. Arriving early helps to ensure the availability of your favorite products.
  2. Bring Cash. Plain old cash is the main currency at the markets. Do not count on the vendors to accept credit cards and checks. In addition, keep the bills small. Hundred-dollar bills are hard to break, and most vendors don’t carry that much change with them.
  3. Bring Sturdy Bags. It’s easier to carry produce or frozen meat in sturdy cloth bags, plus it helps reduce waste. A cooler in your car is also recommended if you want to keep products frozen or cold. You never know if you’ll need to make a stop on your way home!
  4. Keep it Simple. If your first purchase is a few delicious ingredients that makes a simple meal…great. Fresh produce lasts longer and you can become accustomed to the beet or carrot that has the greens still attached and a little dirt on it, because the taste is well worth it.
  5. Leave a little wiggle room. You may head to the market for tomatoes, and you may pass a vendor with great looking early apples, so leave a little wiggle room in your purchases for that special ingredient you weren’t expecting to find.
  6. Be Curious. Farmers grow their vegetables; they choose the varietals that best suit the climate and conditions. Ask questions of your farmers. How much longer is this in season? What will you be bringing next week? How do you prepare this? You will gain the knowledge that you need to fully enjoy your purchases.
  7. Save the Environment, celebrate Earth Day. Shop locally.

One last thought–shopping at your local farmers’ market should be an enjoyable experience and will surely yield a healthy lifestyle and great tasting nutritious food for you and your family.