Summer time normally brings with it not just warm weather and trips to the beach, but the opening of the farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are great ways to buy fresh produce, support your local farms, and find some delicious new foods to try! In this post, I thought that I would share a few tips on how to get the most out of your farmer’s market. I’ve been to a few of the many markets open here in Chicago and even talked to a few of the farmers to find out how to make the most of your trip.
Walk the market. Before you even buy anything, walk the whole market. Many stands will sell the same fruits and vegetables but they might have different prices. You don’t want to buy a pint of strawberries for $6 and then walk to the next stall and see they were only $4 there. Also take your first walk through to inspect the quality of the produce. Make sure that the produce being sold doesn’t look old, withered, or too beat up. A little dirt is fine (these things grow in the ground after all!) but you don’t want it to look like it has been run over by a truck. So make note of the stands selling good produce at good prices and make note of them. Then come back after your walk through.
Ask questions. The people running these stands have a wealth of knowledge of the products they are selling. A lot of them have planted, watered, weeded, and harvested these fruits and vegetables themselves and know pretty much everything there is to know about them. Don’t be afraid to ask how to prepare a certain vegetable or how to best store their fruit. The farmers that I talked to were very excited and passionate about their foods and love to share their knowledge with the people buying their goods. It’s nice to know exactly where your food comes from and exactly who is taking care of your food. On the flip side, if the people at the stand know little to nothing about the things they are selling, maybe get your food at the next stand. Also, if it is super busy at the stand that might not be the best time to ask for the history of radishes. They are trying to sell their products and if they have to spend 30 minutes with each customer that won’t happen.
Try to use cash. I know that barely anyone carries cash with them on a regular basis, me included. Most stands will accept debit/credit cards, but the process goes a lot quicker if you can pay in cash. This is also a great way to budget yourself at the market. If you set a limit of $20 and only bring that much with you, then you won’t over spend. Again, if you forget to bring cash with you it’s not a huge deal. Most places will gladly accept your debit/credit card.
Be creative. Farmer’s markets are great in the way that they will usually sell fruits and vegetables that you might not find at your grocery store. Try something new! Ever heard of kohlrabi, daikon, or patty pan squash? The market is a great place to find one new to you produce item and learn how to prepare it. Soon you will be an aficionado at unique produce and have a lot of tasty go to recipes in your arsenal. And remember, if you aren’t quite sure how to prepare a certain food, the farmer is a great resource.
Still read the labels. Most markets sell more than just fruit and vegetables. There are bakery stands, jam stands, honey stands, butcher stands, and I’ve even seen a tamale stand. Just because something is sold at a farmer’s market doesn’t automatically mean it’s organic or good for you. Some stands sell products that have just as many chemicals and preservatives as the store bought kind. Read your labels and ask if there is an ingredient you don’t know. That being said, a lot of the stuff sold at the market are a much better choice than their grocery store counterpart. Remember though, a cookie is still a cookie whether it’s organic and sold at the farmer’s market or not.
These are just a few tips to make your next trip to the farmer’s market a successful one. I love being able to actually talk to the people who grow my food as well as learn from them. Most of the time their passion for good food is contagious and I can’t wait to get home and make something with my purchases. Find out where there is a market closest to you and check out all of the delicious and healthy food they have to offer!