Looking for me on a Wednesday afternoon? Chances are I’ll be at my local farmers market.
You’ve probably noticed an increase in farmers markets in and around your neighborhood recently — and you’d be right. There are close to 40% more markets nationally than there were even just a few years ago.
And that’s a good thing.
Access to fresh, delicious, and often unusual produce has never been easier thanks to more and more communities embracing and supporting local farmers, bakers and growers of all kinds.
I love my local farmers market and served on the board for its first few years, supplying recipes and photos for the market blog and logging hours at the information tent.
It was at the tent that I discovered how confusing and overwhelming the market can be for people accustomed to shopping at the local grocery store. Many even avoided it altogether because of some preconceived notions of what they might expect.
I thought I’d share my “Top 10 Tips” for shopping your farmers market and having the very best experience possible!
10 Tips for Navigating the Farmers Market Like a Pro:
1. Do a little homework
One of the biggest differences between farmers markets and your grocery store is what you WON’T find. For example, you will not find tomatoes in February or strawberries in October at my market. And you’ll never see bananas, pineapples, or mangoes. Know what’s local and in-season to avoid disappointment (if your market has a website, you can often find this information right there).
2. That said, ask questions!
Where else can you actually talk to the person who harvested your corn or grew those gorgeous flowers or baked that heavenly brioche? The vendors you see at the market work hard — VERY hard — and take immense pride in what they sell. They welcome the opportunity to tell you about that unusual runner bean or weird looking squash, as well as how to store it and cook it. So ask away — just be mindful of your fellow shoppers, who may be looking to make their purchase (or ask a few questions of their own).
3. Start at the information tent
That’s where you’ll find out all the scoop, from what new vendors to check out to any special events going on that week.
4. Large bags, small bills
This is the place to turn out your rustic canvas or mesh market bags — and you’ll be glad you did. And try to come with as many small bills as possible; paying for that $1 pickle with a $50 bill can make things difficult for a vendor, who can’t easily run and change money.
5. Avoid “haggling”
While they have the same initials, the farmers market is NOT a flea market. While some prices may seem high, remember that you are paying for the very best quality produce, likely harvested earlier in the day. Bargaining is generally frowned upon.
6. Hands off
Manhandling the produce is insulting to the grower and worse, creates loss when multiplied by many hands over the course of a day. Remember: That fruit you’re looking at was probably picked that morning, which means it’s ripe! But if you’re unsure, just ask the farmer; she’ll be happy to help you and appreciate your respect of her goods.
7. Don’t “sample”
Often times vendors will have clearly labeled sample trays; in that case, help yourself! But it is definitely NOT okay to swipe a berry here, a cherry tomato there. If you’re interested in buying something new-to-you, but unsure about whether or not you’ll like it, just ask the farmer first.
8. Mind your children (both the two- AND four-legged ones)
Your kids are cute. My kids are cute. And many kids are right at eye-level of all those enticing, colorful baskets and trays. Keep an eye out for tiny wandering hands. The farmers market is the perfect place to bring your littles, who for the most part, are woefully disconnected from where their food comes from, and to introduce them to the farmer who grew that squash they’re going to have with dinner. Just make sure they “look with their eyes.” More often than not, the farmer will offer your tyke a taste, unprompted.
Dogs? That depends on your market; many forbid all but service animals. But even if your market allows furry friends, be vigilant and clean up after them (yes, I’ve seen this occur on more than one occasion).
Most farmers markets rely — sometimes greatly — on the support of the community. And while that support is certainly felt when you patronize the market, there are so many other ways to get involved. Hands are always needed for setting up/breaking down the tents, taking a shift at the information tent, posting signs around town, and helping out during special events.
10. Give good feedback
Engaging with the farmers at your market is a great way to enhance your experience. Did you make a killer cobbler with those peaches? Was your family blown away by your panzanella salad? People who grow and create thrive on feedback and truly appreciate the time you take to seek them out and let them know how much you enjoyed their produce.
For me? It’s about the weekly gathering of neighbors and friends, live music (yeah, my market is pretty awesome), and the chance to connect with the people who have nurtured and harvested the delicious food I’m about to take home.