Buying local is becoming more popular as people work to do better by the environment. If this is something you’re new to, you’re far from alone. It can be a bit intimidating to move from the traditional standard of shopping at the local supermarket, but it’s well worth the trouble. You’ll learn more, help protect the planet, save money and discover flavors you didn’t even know were possible.
Here’s how to navigate your local farmers market and make the most of your shopping experience.
The Farmers Market Experience
The simplest and most common switch to local produce is your local farmers market. They’re everywhere and are popular even in small towns. There are plenty of benefits to shopping there, but the one you’ll find most enjoyable is that everything you buy tastes better. Not just slightly better, but a “where has this been all my life” kind of better. It’ll instantly improve your cooking, and you’ll never want to go back to the grocery store again.
On top of that, you’ll be helping the planet. Buying local cuts down on the emissions needed to get food to you. You’ll be putting all your money directly into a local business, instead of having it split up to pay out-of-state corporate heads. You can help support local farmers, and also interact with people who live near you. You might also make some new friends.
How to Use the Market
Although a farmers market is somewhat similar to a traditional grocery store, it’s still not the same thing. It’s very much a market, and you’ll be interacting with people a lot more than you would at the store. It can be overwhelming, so it’s good to walk in with a game plan.
Get There Early
Show up as soon as you can – the earlier, the better. All the good stuff goes first, especially if there are local restaurants whose chefs shop there. Plus, the timing means not many people will be there, so you can actually talk to the farmers. Try to pay attention, though – sometimes they’ll be too busy for chit-chat. If they aren’t, they’re usually more than happy to tell you about their offers.
Shopping with the seasons requires more flexibility in your meal plans. You shouldn’t go into the market with a specific list, but rather a set of ideas about the food you want to make. Don’t walk in assuming you’re limited to produce. Local foods can include locally raised meat, dairy and egg products, as well as baked goods.
You want to make sure to bring your own bags as well since some stands won’t have any available. Also, bring cash. Not every place will be able to take a credit card, although many will. Either way, don’t be surprised if there are signs dictating how you can pay. If you’re worried about it, find the central booth. It will have information about who can accept whatever payment you have.
Shop the Seasons
Offerings at farmers markets will vary based on the season. A local place may not have strawberries available in the middle of February, and may not sell imported fruits at all. It’s likely to be based entirely on the seasons unless there are sellers who maintain winter gardens. Even then, they are likely to be more expensive than you’d expect. It doesn’t really hurt to try and eat seasonally. Check out what’s seasonally available in the U.S.
- Summer – Berries, melons, leafy greens, tomatoes, most fruits, cherries, garlic, peppers, tree fruits and squash.
- Fall – Apples, some berries, some melons, peppers, late leafy greens, beets, grapes, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, turnips and winter squash.
- Winter – Cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables, winter squash, lemons, and onions.
- Spring – Some berries and early tree fruits, broccoli, early greens, peas, rhubarb, garlic, and onions.
Obviously, some things grow fairly well year-round, especially if the farmer has a greenhouse. By looking around and talking to the farmers, you’ll eventually reach a point where you just know what to expect when you go in. It is by far the most fun, interactive and gratifying shopping experience you’ll likely have.
What are your favorite tips for visiting the farmers market? Let us know in the comments!