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Helpful Tips for Shopping at the Farmers Market

Ahhhh the farmers market... One of the best places to find a variety of fresh and local produce, dairy, and baked goods!

Browsing the stalls and vendors can be a lot of fun but can also sometimes feel a little bit confusing and at times even intimidating to navigate, especially if you're trying to find specific items.

Although I do love just showing up at the market and exploring the endless inspiration with what's available, it can also be helpful to have a few guidelines in mind to really take advantage of what the farmers market has to offer.

For starters, check out your local market's website or social media.

That is where you can find specifics about everything from hours, vendors, payment options, and even recipes.

Keep a cooler in your trunk or bring a portable insulated cooler bag.

If you’re planning on purchasing very perishable items like fresh meat, milk, cheese, eggs or even ice cream, a cooler will help keep these items at a safe temperature until you can refrigerate them. This is particularly helpful on very hot days, if you live a long drive away from the market or you’re planning on making any stops on your way home.

Cash is key, but it's not the only way to pay.

While cash is usually the easiest and most universal way to pay at the market, many vendors will also accept apps like Venmo or Zelle, and also debit or credit cards (especially for larger purchases). If you do use cash, try to bring smaller bills.

Brings bags in a variety of sizes.

Some vendors won’t have plastic bags, so it’s a good idea to bring your own tote bag for your food haul. In addition to larger totes, remember to bring along some smaller bags to help separate your items or protect more delicate purchases like herbs or tiny things like berries and cherry tomatoes.

Shop strategically: Buy lighter items first & heavier/perishable items last.

You don't want to get stuck walking around the market carrying a watermelon - Buy lighter items like salad greens, mushrooms, berries and baked goods first, then circle back for heavier items like watermelon, squash or perishable products like meat, gallons of milk and anything that can melt.

How to tell when something is ripe:

Use your senses - especially smell, sight and touch. With fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines or others, like melon - you want the fruit to be fragrant, which means the natural sugars have developed.

Visually, the color and fruit should look even and consistent without obvious bruises, and the fruit should give gently when you press your thumb in; you don't want fruit that is overly mushy.

With vegetables, you’re not looking for ripeness (vegetables are picked when they are ready to eat), but you want items that look fresh and crisp. Lettuce, herbs and other greens should look bright green without yellowing and the leaves should look crisp.

Finally, remember that ripeness isn’t always what you need; sometimes it’s smarter to get a few items that are ripe and ready to eat and a few that will take a few days so that you can space them out and enjoy throughout the week.

Ask questions about unfamiliar items!

The farmers and vendors at the market are usually open to sharing ideas. Feel free to ask questions if something looks unfamiliar or ask for tips on how to cook or store items.

Go earlier or later in the day.

Strategic timing can enhance your farmers market experience, but there are different ways to go about it. The early bird does, indeed, get the worm. You’re more likely to find the freshest picks without the crowds when you swing around the stands just as the market opens. On the flip side, stopping by the market during closing time may mean better deals as vendors try to sell off their remaining produce.

Walk around first.

We recommend browsing the farmers market before you commit to buying from the first stands that you see. This way, you’ll get a better sense of the produce available, so you can select the freshest picks at the best prices.

Look for houseplants and flowers!

Fresh produce, snacks, and canned goods aren’t the only great finds at the farmers market. Depending on where you live, you can usually discover houseplants and flowers at your farmers market. They’re often healthier and more affordable than the ones at big-box garden centers, so keep an eye out for non-produce goods, too.

Know what's in season.

If you’re browsing the farmers market in the winter, chances are you won’t find the tastiest or most affordable peaches and watermelons. Knowing what’s in season will help you enjoy fruits and veggies at their seasonal peak.

Lastly, get to know your local farmers and vendors.

One perk of shopping at a farmers market is getting to know the people who grow and supply your food. Don’t be shy about asking them questions, like where their produce comes from. You might even want to ask if their supplies are organic or non-GMO, if those are factors you personally care about. Building relationships with your local vendors will help you form a sense of community at the market. Plus, sellers may even let you know about deals and other events!


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