Any given day of the week in California, you are bound to find a farmers market within a reasonable driving distance. There, you can purchase a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheese, learn secrets to picking the best watermelons, and make a connection with the people who get their hands dirty and grow our food.
Personally, I come from a long line of farmers and ranchers, so it’s no great secret that I love to support local farmers who make a living off of growing and harvesting their own crops and animals. It takes an extreme amount of hard work and dedication to turn even the smallest plot of land into a working farm and turn a profit. Once you start chatting with the retailers at your local farmers market, you too will see the pride and love that they have for each item on their table. And who wouldn’t want to buy fresh ingredients from someone who puts their heart and soul into their work, rather than the mass producers that seemingly only care about their bottom line? Many people avoid farmers markets simply because they don’t know what to expect, so enjoy the freshest flavors with these 9 tips to help you at your next Farmers Market trip.
- Learn What Time To Shop
To get the freshest ingredients, the best time to visit the farmers market is early in the morning. If you don’t get there early-ish, be prepared to rummage through a few piles of kale to find the perfect bunch. This is especially true if chefs are purchasing inventory for their restaurants. That said, if you get there later, especially near the end of the farmers market, you will be more likely to get great deals on produce that is still farm fresh and delicious.
- BYOB- Bring Your Own Bags
While some stands do offer bags for their customers, bringing your own reusable bags, coolers, or a cart, depending on how much you intend to purchase, is ideal. The cost of bags greatly cuts into a farmers small price margins and they greatly appreciate the gesture. I believe that small, simple gesture is a great way to help build a relationship with the person who grows your food, thusly giving you better treatment. People want to take care of those who take care of them.
- Small Bills Are a Must
Especially if you are arriving early, bring small bills. Most farmers markets only accept cash as a form of payment, so if you don’t have exact change, small bills are a great way to get as close as you can to the cost of your purchase. This also helps the farmer out by providing him or her with change to use for customers later on.
- Ask Questions
Perhaps the greatest thing about visiting the farmers market is that you can look the grower of your food in the eye and discuss exactly how your food was grown, where it came from, how to properly prepare it, and feel confident that you know exactly what you are putting into your body. Normally, the story of their farm and how they grow their food is enough to keep you coming back every week.
- Specifically, Ask Why It’s Not Certified Organic
USDA certifications are not cheap. Many farms that sell food at the farmers market are very small operations that cannot afford that expensive USDA certification that says they are organic, even if their products aren’t treated with pesticides or antibiotics, and are organically grown. It pays off to ask your farmer why they aren’t certified, and gives you an opportunity to support a small local business. If it’s not organic, you are voicing that you do care how your food is grown.
- Don’t Ignore Foods You Aren’t Familiar With
If there is a food you don’t recognize, chances are the farmer will be more than happy to tell you all about it. Remember, they are trying to build a business, so if they have a unique product, they will jump on the opportunity to make you aware of how that product is unique. Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer what it tastes like, how to prepare it, and the health benefits of consuming that food.
- Go For the Ugly Duckling
We have been conditioned to reach for the perfectly round tomatoes, the shiny apples and the spotless bunch of kale. But don’t let a little dirt or misshapen edges scare you away. In fact, not only will the ugly’s be less expensive, they also taste the best. But don’t take my word for it, judge it for yourself!
- Is it Really Healthy?
Just because you are at a farmers market, doesn’t mean that everything sold there is healthy. Of course that’s not to say that you can’t enjoy these things in moderation, but gluten free corn dogs are still corn dogs. When in doubt, just reach for the organic peaches.
- Don’t be Afraid To Haggle
Just like everyone else, farmers are trying to make a living. That said, especially near the end of the day, they would rather make some money than no money on the produce that will be wasted if it doesn’t sell. As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal- so if you are confident enough to ask if they will take a lesser rate, especially near the end of the day, chances are, they will.