June has arrived carrying a full array of nature’s bounty. Farmer’s markets all over the country are in full swing, awash in vibrant hues. Luscious crimson strawberries are nestled next to plump indigo blueberries in contrast to the crisp mossy green kale.
A rainbow of sights, sounds, and smells titillate the senses, inspire the tastebuds, and sometimes overwhelm the mind. A farmer’s market can be a veritable treasure trove of fresh, organic fare, but it can also be an overwhelming morass of tempting, and perhaps unfamiliar, food assortments. Making the sheer volume of options all the more noticeable is the fact that our pocketbooks often lack the abundance that the farmer’s market proudly displays.
But there is a way to conquer the farmer’s market and take advantage of its copious healthful options. By following 10 simple steps, you too can master the farmer’s market. With a little patience, education, and experimentation, you can rest confidently in the knowledge that you are supporting your community, improving your health, reducing your carbon footprint, and enjoying the best the season has to offer. And nothing tastes sweeter than that.
1. Do your research
Before you go to the farmer’s market, you should have a general idea of your top choices and your budget. It can also be helpful to check the website of your community’s farmer’s market to find out about the farmers that will be at the market and what types of foods they sell. This can make it easier to whittle down your choices and stay within your budget.
2. Be patient and buy in season.
Foods that are in season are not only the most economical, but they are the tastiest. While you can often find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout farmer’s market season, it helps to browse the stands to see which produce seems to be in excess. Those fruits and vegetables are often at their peak in both taste and freshness, and will be the most economical as well.
3. Come early or buy late.
Shopping early in the morning, before the crowds have arrived, allows you more time to linger and ask questions. Buying later in the day, when the farmers are packing up and getting ready to leave, might provide the best deals since farmers are often reluctant to haul their unsold produce back home.
4. Buy in bulk.
Unlike produce purchased at the supermarket, produce at farmer’s markets does not require lengthy transportation time. It is typically harvested just before it is sold, which means it will generally last longer than expected. So if you spot a good find, buy up. While farmers are generally averse to haggling about prices, if you are buying in bulk, you might be able to negotiate a reduced rate, particularly if the produce you are buying is in excess at that time.
5. But don’t overbuy.
With all of the enticing sights, smells, and tastes of the farmer’s market, it can be easy to get carried away and be overly ambitious about your cooking goals. Be realistic and err on the side of buying too little the first time. You can always buy more on subsequent visits.
6. Have a taste.
Farmers and other vendors frequently offer samples of their goods. If you are unsure of an unfamiliar item, ask for a sample.
7. Walk and browse.
It is helpful to walk through the entire farmer’s market once before you buy anything. As you walk through the market and explore its offerings, make a note of which farmers have the best prices and make a priority list of your produce selections. Remember that you do not need to buy all of your produce from the same farmer. You can buy your berries from one farmer, your greens from another farmer, your onions from yet another farmer and you might still have enough funds left over to treat yourself to one of the tasty pastries that so many farmer’s markets offer.
8. Don’t be scared of the ugly produce.
Ugly and strange looking produce, likeheirloom tomatoes and white carrots, can seem a bit exotic and intimidating for even the most adventurous cook. But remember that some of the most strange-looking produce often offers the most extraordinary tastes. Don’t shy away from peculiar looking produce; just ask the farmer for more information on the food and inquire about any recipe recommendations.
9. Make friends.
Whether you are new to the farmer’s market scene or a regular shopper, it helps to make friends with both the farmers selling and the consumers buying at the market. Farmers can provide you with information regarding the shelf life of certain produce, suggest creative cooking techniques and recipes, and provide insight into which fruits and vegetables are in season. Other shoppers can also be a wealth of information regarding which farmers have the best produce for the most reasonable prices and can also provide practical tips on how to use unfamiliar vegetables or fruits.