Go ahead and pile your plate with fresh strawberries, melons, tomatoes, peppers and other just-picked produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables are low in calories, chock full of nutrients like fiber, vitamins A and C, folate and potassium — so it’s no surprise eating a quality diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
The farmers market is the best place to shop for fresh, local produce. Whether you’re a market newbie or a seasoned shopper, you might be making one of these five mistakes:
When it comes to snagging the freshest peaches or a coveted basket of heirloom tomatoes, showing up fashionably late could leave you empty handed.
“All of the chefs and serious shoppers get to the markets early because they know they’ll get the best stuff and there will be plenty of it,” explains Marcy Coburn, executive director of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the nonprofit organization that operates three California farmers markets, including the iconic Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco.
Check the farmers market website or social media page for the hours of operation and set the alarm; the early bird gets the freshest produce.
Curious about Swiss chard but not sure how to cook it? Want to make sure tomatoes were picked at their peak? Not sure how to store fresh peaches? Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Farmers often choose to sell at markets because they like connecting with the shoppers buying and cooking their produce.
“Talking to the farmers is the best opportunity to learn where your food comes from,” says Jennifer Cheek, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit that supports farmers markets. “Don’t be shy about asking questions.”
Most of us love staples like apples, berries, corn and tomatoes, but don’t overlook lesser-known produce.
“Local farmers are growing things specific to your region that may not be the same mainstream things available at your grocery store,” Cheek says.
Most farmers also experiment with new varieties in the hopes of offering the freshest, most delicious produce to sell at their booths, so take a chance on something different. Kohlrabi, currants, muscadine grapes, purple podded peas and orange crisp watermelons might be oddities now but, if given the chance, could become your new favorites.
At some markets, no cash might mean no produce.
“Most farmers market’s still aren’t taking credit cards,” Coburn says. “It’s always a good idea to stop at the ATM before you get there.”
If you arrive at the market and a vendor doesn’t accept credit or debit cards, check with the market information booth. Cheek notes that the market staff is often able to accept plastic and provide tokens you can use to purchase farm-fresh goods. Also, when shopping with cash, most farmers appreciate small bills.
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Farmers markets might be best known for booths overflowing with colorful produce, but there is more to most markets than fruits and vegetables. Vendors often sell other locally produced foods, including cheese, meat, eggs, olive oil, bread, jam and coffee. Show up with your weekly shopping list and shop at the farmers market instead of the supermarket.