Nothing beats hitting up a local farmers market, especially in the summer when stalls are bursting with beautiful, ripe fruits and veggies. Still, it can be a little overwhelming — dozens (possibly even hundreds!) of shouting customers, strange-looking veggies with names you’ve never heard and winding layouts. But once you get over the intimidation factor, supplementing your weekly grocery trip with locally grown produce can help you save money and eat more whole foods. Find your local farmers market, arm yourself with these tips and start eating amazing produce today.
1. Eat Before You Go
Sure, you’re going to want to taste-test the ripe peaches, cherries and tomatoes, but it’s much easier to walk past the kettle corn and mini-doughnut stands when you’re not starving.
2. BYO Bags
Skip the thin, flimsy plastic bags offered by most stalls in lieu of your own reusable cloth or canvas ones. It’s environmentally friendly and you eliminate the risk of bag blowout — watching an assortment of heavy veggies break free and hit the sidewalk isn’t fun.
3. Take a Lap Before You Buy
While prices are typically similar from stand to stand, you might find better looking apples at one end and the most delicious kale you’ve ever seen at the other. Walking the entire market first gives you the best game plan before you pull out your wallet — plus, you’ll get a little extra exercise.
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4. Have a Flexible List
A shopping list is a great tool to make sure you’re buying what you’ll need for the week ahead. But the items offered at your local farmers market vary from week to week, based on quantity and availability, weather conditions and other produce-growing factors. Be prepared to buy broccoli instead of Brussels sprouts, if necessary.
5. Ask Questions
Farmers markets offer a chance to learn more about where your food comes from and how it was grown. If you’re curious about where the farm is, what it’s like or how they grow their food, ask! The truly savvy farmers market shopper also knows to ask how they might prepare an item. This is the food they feed their own families and the farmers often have great cooking suggestions.
6. Get Your Hands Dirty
Many growers don’t wash or process produce before bringing it to market. You’re going to see carrots and beets with dirt clinging to them and their leaves still attached, muddy greens if it’s been raining and even Brussels sprouts on their stalks. As long as you wash everything carefully when you get home, it’s perfectly fine to eat.
7. Be Choosy
Take your time to sort through fruit and vegetables before they’re weighed and paid for to prevent disappointment later. All those juicy apricots look so pretty in the daylight, but if you’re not careful you might find a few bad ones when you’re unloading at home. It’s OK to take them out of the cute pint box for a look-see.
8. Buy at the Peak
The first crop of tomatoes isn’t always the best — and that goes for most produce. Some varieties of fruits and veggies take a week or two into the season to really hit their peak. Make a mental note of what’s new to market today, so you can grab some on your visit next week. And don’t forget: You can always ask to taste before you buy.
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9. Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
If it seems like a stall has an abundance of one item, see if they’ll give you a deal if you buy a certain amount. Most reputable markets have rules against day-end discounting, so don’t expect to sweep in as the market closes for stellar deals.
10. Bring the Kids!
Farmers’ markets are bustling with energy, and getting your kids around all that fresh produce helps get them excited about eating it. Encourage them to pick colorful vegetables and new fruits to eat later in the week.
11. Think Beyond Produce
Lots of farmers markets have stands selling other yummy from-the-farm foods (Think: eggs, honey, meat and grains). You may visit for the super-ripe juicy tomatoes, but the range of farm-fresh products and constantly changing selection will keep you coming back.