Navigating Your Local Farmer’s Market

June is finally here! Summer is nearly upon us and Farmer’s Markets are opening up shop all around. Farmer’s markets are a great way to get tasty local produce, sometimes cheaper than the grocery store.
If you have never been to a farmer’s market, get overwhelmed by them, or feel like you always spend too much money, here are some handy tips:

1. Scope things out.

Sometimes when we walk in, it’s easy to get distracted and caught up in the first delicious display you see.  Take a walk around the whole market to get a sense of everything that is offered and the prices and quality from each farmer.  If there are samples – taste them so you can decide what is the best!

 

2. Be flexible and know what’s in season

It’s important to know what is in season.  If you buy what is in season for your area, you are more likely to pay lower prices and get better quality food.  That being said, nature is sometimes fickle.  What I like to do is scope out the market, see what is available, and take into account what I want to spend.  Then I figure out how I could use what is available for my meal planning that week.  If you try to plan ahead of time, you may end up disappointed that your key ingredient is not available that week.

 

3. Learn more about the farmer’s than fancy produce names

Think of the farmer’s market as a mall.  There are different stores, some of which sell similar items, but may be very different in variety or quality.  Learn which farmers at your market are the best growers, and then follow them. Nine times out of 10, they’ll be the ones with the good stuff. I also like to establish good relationships with the farmer’s I plan to buy the most often from.  (Sometimes, you’ll even get special deals on things that way!)

 

4. Trust but verify

Taste before you buy. Even the best farmer will occasionally have an off batch or season.  And if your favorite farmer seems to be in a bad spell, still try to find something you can buy from him. If you want to make sure the good growers stick around, sometimes you have to go out of your way to be supportive, and this is a good way to maintain good relationships.

 

5. Take your time

Don’t rush.  Inspect all your selections before you buy.

 

6. Don’t rush the seasons

Similarly, don’t rush the seasons.  Sometimes you wait for something to be available, and as soon as it is you want to buy it all up! Make sure you sample it first, as sometimes the first crops that come to market aren’t the best.  If you’re buying at the peak of the season, you’ll get  better quality and be happier with your purchase.

 

If you live somewhere that hasn’t yet started seeing farmer’s markets pop up, or you are wondering what to do during the off season, Bountiful Baskets is a great alternative!  Bountiful Baskets is a volunteer run organization:

“BBFC is a group of people who work together for mutual benefit. This is a grassroots, all volunteer, no contracts, no catch co-operative. Since there are no employees at Bountiful Baskets, we as a group pay rock bottom prices on your food. This also means the co-op would not happen without volunteers. If you are interested in the co-op continuing, please volunteer occasionally. All it takes is a little time, energy and a smile. ”

This was my most recent BBFC haul:

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Everything in the center was $15: 3 small onions, 5 organic tomatoes, head of red lettuce, 2 small heads of broccoli, 2 yellow bell peppers, big bunch of asparagus, yellow squash, 10 bananas, green grapes, bag of green apples, pint of blackberries, and celery.  I also paid an extra $15 for 12 pints of blueberries and $12 for 5 loaves of organic whole wheat bread.

Check out http://bountifulbaskets.org/ for more information!