Are you new to shopping farmer’s markets? Purchasing locally produced food and handmade, artisanal goods is one of the best things you can do to support your economy. Eating in season means the food you take home will have the best flavor and nutritional value.
But many people have shopped grocery stores for food their whole lives. It’s easy since the stores are open when we want with heavily stocked shelves, shopping carts, greeting cards, laundry detergent, pharmacies and sushi bars. It’s convenient, comfortable and predictable. Shopping in an open-air market with varying quantities of produce and perhaps even different vendors from week to week can be a quite an adjustment. Here are ten tips that will make visits to a farmer’s market a great one. Maybe shopping for farm fresh food will become part of your regular routine.
1. Bring small bills and maybe even some change. Some markets and individual vendors are beginning to accept debit and credit payments, but until you know for sure, cash is safest.
2. Just like at the grocery store, bring reusable bags. Plastic bags are usually available from produce vendors, but your purchases will be better protected and easier to carry in sturdy canvas bags.
3. Look around first, then circle back. In July, you’ll find tomatoes and peaches at almost all produce vendor stands. You are free to buy as much or as little from different stands, but you might want to take a look around first to see if there is a particular grower who has more of what you’d like to buy. It’s not always the case, but sometimes the more you buy, the more likely you are to get a little extra in your bag.
4. If you plan to buy meat, cheese, milk or eggs, consider bringing a cooler or insulated tote. In extremely hot weather, a cooler is a good idea for other produce too.
5. Have a flexible grocery list or meal plan. This will allow you to get inspired by food at its peak and possibly take advantage of great deals. Check the website or blog of your favorite market to see if a weekly report is published for a preview of items farmers plan to bring. If there isn’t a list, be open to trying new things and remember to only buy enough for your needs.
6. Check schedules. Some St. Louis area markets are open several days throughout the week like Kirkwood and Soulard. However, those markets have more local vendors on the weekends than weekdays. Many markets in St. Louis are only open Saturday mornings such as Clayton and Tower Grove. A few communities have weekday hours like Webster Groves and Ellisville Community Farmer’s Market.
7. Ask questions! Talking to the farmers about how their food is grown is a key benefit when shopping for fresh, local produce as well as meat and dairy. If you aren’t sure what to do with a certain vegetable, farmers are also ready to share preparation tips for the food they grow.
8. Pick up a new cookbook that features seasonal recipes. A great guide to vegetables is From Asparagus to Zucchini, published by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. Each vegetable has its own chapter with a brief overview and history, preparation and storage tips, and anywhere from four to a dozen recipes.
9. Watch for special events. Maplewood’s market holds a monthly SLOWednesdays June through October where a local farm is featured in a meal demonstration and the grower has a chance to talk about their farming practices.
10. Get to know other shoppers at the farmer’s market. They’ll have tips and ideas too. A farmer’s market brings together growers and consumers, fostering a sense of community and support.