Looking to change your grocery shopping habits? Head to a farmers market. A fantastic alternative to your standard store, farmers markets provide locally grown, fresh produce and goods to customers. Buying food and goods from your market is a great way to start eating healthier while also supporting local businesses. If you’re taking a trip to the farmers market for the first time, here are six important farmers market shopping tips that’ll make your experience a breeze.
Why Should You Shop at a Farmers Market?
Farmers markets offer shoppers the best produce options, with fruits and vegetables usually only sold during peak seasons. By purchasing their produce, you’re also supporting small businesses—cutting out the middleman and directly paying vendors who are farmers, ranchers, or producers—and boosting the local economy.
In 2020 alone, nearly two billion dollars were spent at local markets nationwide, according to the USDA. Plus, farmers market shopping gives people a chance to:
- Try new foods when they taste their best.
- Make shopping a family event in a more relaxed setting.
- Practice healthier eating options.
- Improve cooking skills and learn to use ingredients in new ways.
Our Tried-and-True Farmers Market Shopping Tips
With these tips, you’re sure to have a successful trip to your local market.
1. Do Your Farmers Market Research
Finding your local farmers market can be as simple as typing “farmers market near me” in a search engine or asking friends if they know of any locations. In some areas, the market may be downtown; in others, you may find stands in a shopping center. Major cities often have dozens of markets.
There are some daily markets in larger cities; however, many farmers markets are only open for a few hours on the weekends because vendors need time to work and prepare throughout the week. With this constrained availability, you may wonder when to arrive for the optimal shopping experience. There are pros and cons to going very early or late:
- Going early.
- PRO: You can avoid larger crowds and likely experience a bigger selection.
- CON: Certain vendors might not be open yet.
- Going late.
- PRO: You may get discounts on items as vendors try to clear their products.
- CON: You may miss out on hot-ticket items.
2. Carry Cash, Reusable Bags, and Containers
While many farmers market vendors have credit card machines or accept payments through apps like Zelle or Venmo, cash is still king. It’s the fastest way to pay and may give you a chance to bargain with sellers who don’t have credit card machines or are busy with other customers.
In addition to cash, bring reusable bags or eco-friendly containers to carry what you buy. Not all vendors provide bags for produce, foods, and meats, so make sure you have enough storage items for the shopping trip you’ve planned.
3. Know Your Seasons, Know Your State
Every farmers market sells a variety of produce, meat, and other foods depending on the region you live in and the time of year you’re shopping. A California farmers market may have cherries in the spring and summer, while at a Texas market, they’re only available in June and July.
For an easy way to keep up with the seasonality of fruits and vegetables, seek out online seasonal food guides. Among the most popular options:
• Apples harvest between August and November and can be stored and sold until spring. They’re grown in all 50 states, with Eastern Washington leading production.
• Potatoes are grown from late summer to early winter. Idaho is the potato capital of the U.S., with Washington, North Dakota, and Colorado being big-time producers, as well.
• Carrots harvest in late spring and or early fall. California produces over 85 percent of all carrots grown in the United States, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
4. Have Your Shopping List Ready
With so much to see and buy, it’s easy to get distracted at the farmers market and forget a thing or two. That’s why making a list is important! There are even apps that will help you make your list and keep things organized. Can’t find an item on your list? Ask vendors for alternatives and make sure you’ve double-checked that what you need is in season.
5. Connect with Vendors
Familiarize yourself with the local vendors. Whether you’re asking them about their farm, farming practices, or recipe tips, they’re typically very excited to educate customers about their products and how to use them. Ask vendors questions like:
- How long does the local produce last?
- How should I store the produce?
- Are there any popular recipes for the produce?
- Are there any alternatives to the product when it’s unavailable?
By checking in with the experts, you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of what you’re buying and learn how you can take advantage of things like taste and texture to improve your meals.
6. Seek Out Surprises
You can find more than just produce at your local farmers market, as many offer non-produce items to complement what farmers are selling. Local artists, pitmasters, and other community members could have surprising offerings, including:
- Cooked barbecue
- Baked goods
Give yourself extra time on your visit to look around the entire market. You might find something you weren’t looking for but end up loving—all thanks to changing how you shop.
Time to Enjoy Your Farmers Market Goodies
After you’ve purchasing all your delicious produce using our tried and true farmers market shopping tips, store everything correctly so they don’t go to waste. To learn how to keep your produce fresh at home, read our article, “The Best Ways to Store Your Favorite Fruits & Veggies.”