– Do a lap before you buy anything. I always like to see what’s available before I make any purchases. It gives you time to compare prices, produce and vendors.
– Talk to your market managers. Usually there is a booth at the market where the managers will sit. They are full of knowledge about the market. I used to explore on my own but I was recently given a tour of the Encinita’s Farmer’s Market. The manager, Tasha, knew everyone there and what they were selling. It usually takes me weeks, if not months, of regular visits to get that kind of knowledge. She also let me know a few other things that they offer, like if you leave a bag they give you $1 in market bucks to spend. I love free money and if I hadn’t talked to her then I would have never known!
– Ask the vendors what’s good that week. When I was at the Encinitas Farmer’s Market I asked the guys at the Sunny Cal Farms booth which pluots were best that week. They gave me 2 options plus samples. I ended up trying almost all the fruit because I can’t pass up free samples but their suggestions were the best. Those guys know their plums! Not all produce can be sampled at the market so vendors are a good resource.
– Be prepared to veer off your shopping list. I’m a big fan of shopping lists but farmer’s markets can be unpredictable. Some weeks every vendor has spinach, other weeks you can’t find it anywhere. Farmer’s markets don’t ship in food from all over the world. If there is a storm in your area that wipes out their mint, then they won’t have mint that week. They also only have things that can be grown locally. Unless you live in Hawaii, you won’t be picking up bananas. They are not grocery stores, which can be a good thing. Being flexible with your list means that you can be open to new and different foods. Pluots are similar to plums and come in a number of varieties. I look forward to them every season but I can’t find them in most grocery stores. I also found a vendor that sells cactus. Cactus! You can’t get that at the grocery store.
– Bring cash. I usually don’t spend more than $10 per vendor. You can also buy a jalapeno for pennies. Vendors don’t usually take credit nor is it reasonable so come prepared with cash.
– Bring your own bag. I always bring a few canvas bags to the market so I don’t need to use plastic bags. Personally, I don’t think each piece of produce needs to be individually wrapped. That being said, if you are making multiple purchases (wrapped in plastic or not) then one large canvas bag will help free up your hands. Depending upon where you live, vendors may not supply bags so come prepared.
– Go to the farmer’s market first. I always hit the farmer’s market before I go to the grocery store. Farmer’s market produce comes right from the farm to the market. Grocery store produce comes from a farm, then to a refrigerated truck (and/or airplane), and then shipped to the grocery. I bought the largest onion I’ve ever seen from Yasukochi Family Farms. It was juicy like a piece of fruit. That never happens when I cut into onions from the grocery store. I find that farmer’s market produce tastes better and definitely lasts longer. I try to get as much as I can from the market so that I only need a minimal amount of produce from the grocery store.
Do you have any other tips for shopping a farmer’s market?