In an ideal world (or at least my personal fantasy), there would be a greenhouse five miles down the road. I would venture out on the weekends to get a week’s worth of food and place my money into the hands of someone with the same dirt under their nails as the batch of carrots I’ll pick up next season. For most of us now, the closest we can get to experience this special type of fulfillment is by going to a local farmers’ market.
In this article, I share tips on how to maximize your next farmer’s market trip and make it a fruitful (pun intended) main source of produce. But before you walk out the door dressed in your best carefree Saturday outfit with a collection of reusable totes in hand, I ask that you do a bit of prep work first.
Find the right farmers’ market.
Establish your priorities. What is it that you’re looking for: An enormous selection? Entirely local or organic produce? An accompaniment of other products, in addition to the usual carrots and berries?
Of course, your market won’t have all of these things unless you win the geographic lottery, but if you want to make this adventure worth your while, you’ll need to make sure you go to a market where they have what you’re looking for.
Do some agriculture research.
Before you get there, see which fruits and veggies are in season. Use sources like seasonalfoodguide.org to help you out. You can also search for sites that are specific to your state or region. Looking for a recipe to plan? Base your search terms on seasonal items to ensure that you’re getting the fresh herbs and dairies you need.
Make room in the freezer.
There’s nothing worse than watching your carefully picked veggies go to waste before you can transform them into art. Since the portions of produce sold at markets are usually larger, it’s good to have some space to save at least one week’s worth of food—for those times when you just can’t make it to the market.
Make a list of staple items so you don’t forget them.
Make note of the fruits and veggies that you use the mos and be ready to pick up any staple items you use on a weekly basis. I’ve come home from plenty of markets only to realize that I didn’t pick up any lettuce or carrots, so I and had to hit the grocery anyway.
Once you’re there…shop around!
Now that I’ve finally let you go to the market, remember to take your time and look at the same item in multiple stalls. Nothing is sadder than buying a bunch of kale at one stall only to find a healthier, more vibrant stalk of it a few tables down. Once you know what you’re looking for, take the time to check for quality. That being said, don’t be fooled by looks, either. Some of the sweetest fruits might look a little bruised!
Consider looking for more than just veggies.
Honey, eggs, syrup, jams, soaps, a plethora of household products can be made locally and sold at farmers’ markets on select weekend days. Finding these items at a market, rather than a chain grocery, might save you some money and raise the bar on quality.
Go as often as you can.
To really get the most out of your market, make it a habit. This way you can freeze more, incorporate more variety into your diet, and cut out trips to big chain grocery stores.
Bonus tip: Wing it!
If you really want to have some fun and make a day of it, I recommend planning to wing the next two days of meals based on what you discover. I’m kind of spoiled with our farmers’ market because of the fresh fish shack (I promise it’s less sketchy than it sounds), so I always plan on the freshest catch with the best-looking bushy green and some crisp, bread.
If it’s peach season, I’ll pick up ice cream on the way home for cobbler. I also let a few friends know they might want to stop by later with an appetite and a bottle of wine. Better still, rally the troops and go to the market together! Once you’ve hauled all the goods back to the house or apartment of whoever has the biggest kitchen, you can prepare a group feast. I love few things more in this world than a spice-laden kitchen air filled with laughter and music.
Maybe we’ll see each other at the farmer’s market this weekend! I’ll be the one drooling over the fresh cheese selection. Feel free to come and join me.