The Early Bird Gets the
Saturday morning I got up bright and early to go to the farmers’ market. I knew the first crop of this season’s local strawberries was in, and I didn’t want them to get sold out before I got there. They are open from 9 to 1, and I arrived right at 10.
I walked straight over to the strawberry vendor and noticed that the table was empty and the vendor was talking furiously to someone on her cell phone. Shamelessly eavesdropping, I was able to make out the words “sold out” and “get some more over here soon.”
I couldn’t believe it — sold out by 10am?
Note to self: arrive at 9am to get the best pickins!
When she got off the phone she assured me that they were out in the fields picking strawberries this morning and they would be bringing over another delivery very soon and to make sure to come back around.
As I walked along, I actually discovered another vendor with a small selection of strawberries, so I eagerly put a few pints in my bag before anyone else could grab them. Best of all, I inquired, and they were grown without any chemical fertilizer or insecticides. SCORE!
Another farmers’ market score this week — farm fresh pastured eggs, priced at $3/dozen or 5 dozen for $10. I usually pay $4/dozen, but this time of year, eggs are plentiful and often you can get a good deal if you look around. I immediately grabbed up 5 dozen and assured the girl behind the table that we will probably have them eaten in 2 weeks.
I highly recommend visiting your local farmers’ market and checking out what they have to offer. Not only do you get the freshest food available (next to growing your own, of course) but the community and camaraderie can’t be beat. No one is happy at the grocery store, have you noticed that? But at the farmers’ market, there’s often live music playing, and people are happy and relaxed. I love chatting with the vendors and how the other patrons smile and say good morning. Now that I’ve been going regularly for a few weeks, I’m actually getting to know some of them and they recognize me. My regular farmers’ market visits are quickly becoming the highlight of my week.
There is a method to the madness, I’m learning. After going a few times, I finally have my strategy figured out, so I thought I’d compile a post with tips for shopping the farmers’ market.
Top Ten Tips for Making the Most of the Farmers’ Market
1. Plan ahead.
It helps to go to the farmers’ market website ahead of time and check out who is going to be there, what’s going to be available, and if you need to place any orders before you get there. Some vendors only work through special order, others are in high demand or only bring limited quantities, so if you want to be sure they are going to have what you want, you may want to order ahead.
I also like to check out the philosophy of the vendors to see who is growing their foods organically, if their animals are pastured or not, that kind of thing. It cuts down on the amount of questions you’ll need to ask when you get there, and you can choose the vendors who you want to purchase from rather than wandering aimlessly.
2. Bring cash.
Almost all farmers’ markets work on a cash only basis. I can’t count the number of times I’ve run out, so be sure to bring plenty. Or, if you are on a strict budget, just bring what you are willing to spend, so you aren’t tempted to over spend.
3. Bring your own bags.
Most vendors have some plastic or paper bags available, but most people bring their own. At the very least, bring one big bag to collect everything in so you aren’t caught doing a juggling act.
4. Do a walk through before you start purchasing.
It’s always a good idea to do a walk through to see what’s there. There are usually several vendors selling some of the same things, and you will want to compare prices and quality so you can be sure to get the best bang for your buck. If you did your homework ahead of time, you’ll know who is organic and who isn’t, and that sort of thing. If not, you may want to ask some questions.
I always ask if they spray their berries because berries are like little sponges, and any chemicals that are sprayed on them are going right into your body. I also like to make sure the eggs I buy are from hens who are raised on grass and that the meat was raised without added hormones or antibiotics.
5. Make a Plan
If you are on a budget, you may want to make a plan so you buy first the things you want the most before you run out of funds. You’ll also want to buy your non-perishables and lighter items first, unless of course you don’t mind getting a workout walking from vendor to vendor. (See #6.)
6. Save cold and heavy stuff for last.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve ended up lugging around a 10-lb piece of meat while I gather fruits and veggies. Other times I’ve had to leave before I was ready because I had 5 dozen eggs sitting in the car, going to rot. I’m learning to buy my fruits and veggies first because they are lightweight and not perishable. Sometimes I even drop them off in the car before going back and getting my meat. Needless to say, if you are buying popsicles, save them for last and then hurry on home before they become juice!
7. Be flexible.
It’s a good idea to plan ahead and have a list of things you want to be sure to get if you can find them, but also be prepared to make discoveries. If you see some fabulous looking rhubarb, grab it up and then find a recipe to use it in. Try something new, if you see something interesting. I like to plan my weekly menus around what I find at the market. I don’t like to turn down something wonderful because it doesn’t fit into my menu plan.
8. Be realistic about what your family can consume.
That said, don’t over buy. You don’t want your precious goods going to rot. Make sure that you’ll be able to use what you buy.
9. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
If you go later in the day, you may be able to get a good deal because sometimes the farmers don’t want to schlep everything back home. Make a friendly offer, and you never know, you may get a good deal. You can also inquire to see if they will give you a good deal for buying in bulk. If you want to make strawberry jam and want to buy a whole flat of berries, they may give you a discount. (Note: my eggs purchase above.)
Don’t rush in and rush out. Enjoy the experience. Grab a cup of coffee and a scone and relax and listen to the music for a bit before you begin your shopping. Chat with the vendors, ask questions, get to know them. Bring your kids along so they develop an appreciation for the farmers’ market experience as well.