Purchasing your food locally and seasonally has major environmental and social benefits. As consumers, we have a lot of purchasing power when it comes to spending our dollars on meals and pantry essentials. Each dollar is like casting a vote for a production system that brings food and products to our shopping cart.
When we have the background knowledge and the motivation to spend money locally instead of corporately, we can directly and positively impact the planet, our local community, and our own health. You’ll have more clarity about where your food is coming from, how it’s been grown, and who is tending the fields. Not to mention the fact that our stomachs and tastebuds will be smiling from the goodness of fresh produce. So, what’s not to love about getting your food from a farmer’s market?
Even with all of the benefits of farmers’ markets, there are still many obstacles and hesitations we face when we’re deciding how to grocery shop. I know I often find myself at a bit of a standstill on Saturday mornings when it comes to actually getting dressed, heading out the door, and meandering down to the community farmer’s market.
Maybe your weekend mornings are usually reserved for coffee dates with your mom, or it’s prime time to catch up on your favorite shows. Maybe you don’t really enjoy cooking for yourself, so the prospect of buying fresh fruits and veggies from the market only to find them sad and wilting in the fridge one week later is all too real. Maybe you find that market shopping is a bit out of your budget. Or maybe you have no clue where your local farmer’s market is, or if one even exists.
Fear not — with a bit of planning and some background information, your market experience can actually be enjoyable. You might even find that it’s something that you look forward to every weekend. Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced market attendee, here are a few tips to help you prepare to cruise around those stalls like a market pro.
- Go early for the best selection and the smallest crowds. Because you’re not shopping in a big, shiny grocery store, there’s a chance that vendors might run out of their goods as the morning wears on. If you show up early, you’ll have the highest likelihood of finding what you’re looking for, and you’ll get first dibs on the highest quality produce.
- Do a lap of the market first before making any purchase decisions. Taking a stroll first helps you find out what’s on offer that week, who’s offering the best prices or the juiciest-looking apples, and what your breakfast and coffee options are. This way, when you’re ready to buy, you’ll know you’re choosing the right option because you’ve already surveyed the competition.
- Bring plenty of cash. These days, a lot of vendors are using Apple Pay, Square, or other mobile card-reading options, but there are still plenty who choose to go old-school. Stash a few green bills in your wallet and you won’t be left empty-handed when you come across those juicy red strawberries that are cash-only. And if you’re worried about the prices of food at a farmers’ market compared to, say, Trader Joe’s, just remember that with careful meal-planning and deal-scouting, you can actually save quite a bit of money.
- Stock a “market survival kit” with reusable bags (bring a few!), a coffee cup if you plan to indulge in a java fix, and your own bamboo cutlery set so you don’t need to opt for the single-use, throwaway options. You’ll be taking that eco-living mentality one step further and showing your community members how dedicated you are to a sustainable lifestyle.
- Sketch a simple “meal plan” for your week, or at least jot down a few ideas. With this in your back pocket, you’ll be armed with a list of specific ingredients you will actually put to use, so you don’t end up with a giant box full of green beans and no plan to utilize them. Food waste isn’t ideal! You’ll feel much more prepared with a basic list in hand, but remember, it’s okay to be spontaneous.
- Be open to trying new food items. Sampling something different is a perk of shopping at a farmers’ market, as many producers grow local and unique fruits and veggies that you wouldn’t find in your average supermarket. A giant purple pumpkin? A massive radish? Crazy-looking green beans and edible flowers? Sure, why not! Come with an open attitude and you’ll be breaking out of your cooking rut in no time.
- Get ready to chat with some farmers. One of the most beautiful parts of going to the market is that you get the opportunity to chat face-to-face with the people who are growing your food. You’ll get to see the passion lighting up their faces as they talk about their most recent projects, hear recipe suggestions for their in-season offerings, and learn more about sustainable and organic farming methods. They usually love answering questions as well (as long as their stall isn’t swamped with other customers, so use etiquette), so if you’re curious about something, don’t be shy!
Remember, attending a farmers’ market is a fun and meaningful way to support your local community. With these tips in your back pocket, you’ll be ready to spark some interesting conversations, try a new vegetable, find a favorite bakery, and drink the best Americano of your life. The treasures of delicious local food and drink await!