Getting the Most Out of the Farmers’ Market

There are certain things your local grocer does best, and others where Farmers’ Markets simply can’t be beat.  Figuring out what those are will help you make the most of your local farmers’ market.

Photo by Amy Thompson

Compare Prices

Price is not the main reason I shop at farmers’ markets; I’m there for quality and taste.  However, if you have a limited amount to spend, it helps to know how to get the most bang for your buck. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take note of the prices of things that are also available at the farmers’ market.  You will likely be able to get fresh greens, veggies, and fruits at a higher quality and lower price than at the grocery store.  Choose those that are cheaper directly from the farmer in order to get higher quality food for a lower price.

Decide on Your Must-Haves

Perhaps there are certain things where other variables besides price play a major role in decision making.  We prefer buying grass-fed meat and dairy.  The farmers’ market will never beat the prices of industrial meat and dairy from the grocery store, but in this area we’re willing to pay more for a quality product.  Being able to meet the farmer face to face that raised the animals is also valuable to me; it means more than a simple label that says “grass-fed.”

Photo by Amy Thompson

Get There Early

Farmers are up in the pale light of the morning, picking the ripest produce and loading their trucks.  You will have your choice of the freshest, most perfectly ripe offerings if you’re there bright and early.  This is one way to ensure you get the very best of the best.

Get There Late

If you’re looking for a deal, considering strolling through the booths just before the market closes.  Farmers likely can’t sell what is left over and will be happy to give it to you at a bargain.  Granted, it will be the picked over stuff, but you’re likely to score some great deals of some still very yummy food.

Photo by Amy Thompson

Make Connections

Get to know the farmers, the cheesemakers, the soap artisans and sheep wranglers.  Many offer CSA options, food for work trades, buying in bulk discounts or cheaper prices if you pick up food at their farms.  It’s also good to know who produces your favorite foods such that you can still buy it (soaps, meats, dairy, greenhouse vegetables etc.) when the market closes in the fall.  Knowing where your food comes from and the people that produce it is healthy for you and your community.

Photo by Amy Thompson

Enjoy Yourself!

The farmers’ market is as much about enlivening your senses and enjoying a stroll as it is about acquiring food.  Take your time, wander, stop to chat, taste the samples, smell the fruit and flowers.  Allow your time at the market to be more than running another errand, rather, give yourself permission to enjoy a mini-culinary vacation and soak it all in.

What’s your favorite part about shopping at the farmers’ market?

19 Comments

  1. Eren

    Amy, these are such great tips. Oh, that peach photo has my mouth watering…I don’t do canned peaches because there’s nothing like the real thing. Happy marketing!!!
    .-= Eren’s last blog: Decorating: In Need Of White Space =-.

  2. abbie

    These are great tips!! I just love our local farmers market just a mile away. Our first tour was this past Saturday.
    My tips would be:
    :: Try something new. Many times there is a new veggie or fruit we haven’t tried to prepare before. Ask the vendor how to cook it up…or ask other shoppers. Take a step off, grab a couple, and google a recipe at home. You may be surprised at a new “veggie love.”
    :: Ask the farmer vendor for canning quantity discounts. When I am looking for “seconds” for canning peaches, tomatoes, that are a bit bruised, I ask the farmer vendor. Usually they sell this produce at 50% off, and getting there late, helps!
    :: If you can’t afford the organic meat prices, buy in bulk. Unfortunately, the grass-fed meat prices at the market are a bit too expensive for our budget. We end up buying a side, or a half an animal straight from the farmer since this ends up being only $4.50 /lb for t-bone steaks, instead of $20+ at the farmer’s market.

    I think I am going to take you up on the “get to know your farmer” tip. I think it certainly makes a difference to know where your veggies came from. I also think it helps the farmer know we really appreciate their presence at the market, and all the work they do to grow the foods we eat. We also can’t wait to “pick-our-own” this summer! Strawberry season is almost here in northern VA.

    Great post! Thanks.

    • Amy

      Love the tip to try something new. That is one of the best things about the market. I used to belong to a CSA and one of my favorite things was coming up with new recipes for all the fun things we got in our share.

  3. Kara

    I enjoyed the post. 🙂 I hope I can apply these tips when I am able to visit a market (right now the closest one is a hour away…).

    • Kara

      AN hour, I mean. Oh typos…

  4. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    I love everything about farmer’s markets- the families, the community feel, the home baking, and of course, the produce!
    We always kept a stall at our local market when I was a kid. I’ve got such good memories of selling bedding plants, rhubarb pie and the occasional kid goat.

    Looking forward to a whole new season of farmer’s markets!
    .-= Aimee @ Simple Bites’s last blog: How to Have Peace, Serenity AND Breakfast in Bed on Mother’s Day (Recipe) =-.

    • Amy

      So cool that your family had a stall at the market. I day dream about having enough land to produce surplus veggies so our kids could have a little roadside stand or something. It’s such a great thing for kids to be involved in.

  5. Kara Fleck

    I think my favorite part of the Farmer’s Market you covered in your last paragraph – unlike the store, it is a place to take your time … to relax … to talk to the people selling you the food and create a relationship … there’s a slower, more peaceful pace than the “rush in, rush out” of the big box or convenience store. It makes me feel good about our food 🙂

    Great post!
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: Showcase: Link Love =-.

  6. Primal Toad

    This post comes in at a perfect time! Last Saturday was the grand opening of my local farmers market. I was thrilled by all the different vendors offering wholesome food. I am beginning to build a relationship with one farm who has 100% grass fed beef. They will have bacon available this Saturday 🙂

    I particularly enjoyed the last paragraph – have fun! I had a blast and I went alone. I will be going with a wide variety of people in the near future as I help build the primal community locally right here in GR. Going to the local farmers market is a big step towards great health!
    .-= Primal Toad’s last blog: Are You Lacking Motivation to Change? Watch The Best Motivational Video Now =-.

  7. chris

    How timely! My husband and I just had this discussion today. We were realizing that buying so much at the famer’s market has been causing us to deplete our pantry stocks in order to avoid going over budget. I went back to the grocery store today to re-stock and as I went through I worked on actively making the decisions on what items we want from the market, versus what I need to buy at the store. Bread is definately a market item for us! My daughter is allergic to corn products, so there’s not a single loaf in the supermarket she can have. And with all those ingredients, why would I want it? I’d love to buy everything from the market, but it’s just not financially an option at this time. On the same note though, I refuse to quit going to the market entirely – not only do I want the better food but I really want my daughter to know where food comes from. Fortunately, the farm my grandmother grew up on up north is still being run by her brother, so our family reunions will allow her to really be involved!
    And yes, the best part of the market is the atmosphere! I dread the store, but I look forward to Saturday morning market trips all week!

  8. Jeanne

    Great tips for the market! My favorite part of the farmers’ market is getting to know the farmers. Last year, we were able to continue buying produce from one of the farmers after the market closed in the fall. Now that the market is open again, I love to spend Saturday morning strolling through the aisles of fresh produce!
    .-= Jeanne’s last blog: Molasses Oatmeal Bread =-.

  9. Aiming4Simple

    What I like about farmers markets is the chance to make personal connections while we shop from local farmers. An added bonus are the freebies and bargains we occasionally score at closing time. Maybe bringing along my 3 kids helps to inspire such kind gestures. =) I’m very excited that our local farmer’s market is opening this weekend!
    .-= Aiming4Simple’s last blog: Attempted in April: 4 Challenges =-.

  10. gloria

    Thanks so much for the farmers’ market tips and for describing what happens at the farmers’ market.

    I am in love with my local year-round farmers’ market (I live south of San Francisco). Going on 10 years now, every Sunday throughout the year you’ll find me helping to set up and sell the organically grown produce grown by a local farmer I met while chatting and shopping at the farmers’ market! Who knew? I never imagined that I’d be selling vegetables … and I love it!

    What I love about it (besides the most alive and most beautiful produce imaginable) is connecting with the shoppers who, like me, can’t help themselves and must come every week–rain or shine. We joke and laugh. I know what vegetables they like and don’t like. We exchange recipes and family cooking traditions–such an intimate experience sharing the details of what happens in our kitchens. And because we are all part of the community that is the farmers’ market, it is absolutely permissible to ask the shopper next to you how they are going to prepare that lovely vegetable that you’re both picking to put into your [reusable :-)] shopping bags.

  11. Sarah

    As a farmer who runs a stall at a farmers’ market, these are great tips. I definitely agree with getting to know your farmer. I will go out of my way for my regular customers. Also, if you don’t see it, ask. We sell grass-fed beef and have started cutting different items just because we’ve gotten requests for it.

    If money is really tight but you can provide a useful service, see if your farmer will barter for it. Most of the vendors barter behind the scenes, but I once had a customer come by with some beautiful tomatoes and asked if I would trade her some meat for them, which I happily did.

    One last suggestion, come shopping even when the weather is bad. You will get great service usually because we are so happy to have customers braving the rain. Bad weather can really put a dent in the sales.
    .-= Sarah’s last blog: He’s laughing with us, not at us =-.

  12. Danielle Hunt

    Hi, I love my FM’s and go there at least once a week if not twice. My suggestions would be to talk to the farmer (along the lines of getting to know them) and ask for suggestions. They eat their own food so they know which is the tastiest and what needs another week. I was talking to my farmer about a month ago and was going to get peaches and asked how they were. He said ok but by the following week they would be so sweet. I put my bag back and bought other fruit instead. I did return the following week and bought the peaches. YUM! I also buy in bulk all the time. Esp raw organic almonds and fruit. I freeze and dehydrate. I saved 15 bucks on buying 2 flats of strawberries at one time! Try something each week. I really started enjoying the new veggies in my CSA but I like being able to pick my own produce and meet the farmers so this way worked better for me. You can also ask to help out there farm after you befriend them and you can learn a lot and save money! FM’s are the best!

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    I prefer buy food on the market, becaues there I can choose the best fruits and vegitables.

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