10 Things to Do at Farmers Markets (and the One Thing Not to Do)
I fell in love with shopping at Farmers Markets the first time we went to France. It was two decades ago, but I still remember the experience, especially the Cours De Saleya market in Nice. It was unbelievable with so many choices of EVERYTHING. Since then, I have made it my mission to find farmers markets in every town I visit and have attended them all over the US as well as many in Europe. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to be an informed shopper without asking the question that causes farmers to bristle back and not want to befriend you. So today I am sharing the 10 Things To Do and Things Not To Do for the best Farmers Market Experience.
Find Your Closest Farmers
If you have never shopped at a farmers market, I want you to immediately (after reading this post) go to LocalHarvest.org and find the ones nearest you.( Even the smallest towns have a market when summer hits because all gardeners want to have SOMEONE use their surplus of veggies and they might as well make a little extra $$ for it, right?)
If you’re a newbie to local shopping at markets, I want you to have a great experience every time so look these over and even bookmark this page or print this out as a reminder. If you are a seasoned market shopper, you probably already practice many of these things, but it never hurts to review them and see if you see anything new.
10 Things to Do at Farmers Markets
1) Talk to the Farmers - I listed this number one because it is the very thing that sets farmers markets apart. You are talking to the very person or persons who are responsible for growing your food. Pet their dogs, shake their hands, ask them questions about the produce or to see if you can try something, compliment them on the beauty or quality of their produce. As you get to know them, find out if they accept special orders for when you need a large quantity of something or if you won’t be able to get to the market until later. Many times, the most popular items will sell out really early. Heirloom tomatoes still available the last hour of the market? Probably not, but my favorite farmer Charlie will always hold them for me! 😉 ( Read on to find out THE question to NEVER ask a farmer.)
2) Go with an open mind, not a shopping list - Look for something new: purple carrots, white asparagus, romanesco (the perfect vegetal example of a fractal) are just a few examples of things I discovered at farmers markets. If you are a menu planner, this may be an adjustment, but I promise you, it will be revolutionary for you and it brings me to #3.
3) Buy the things that look the best and then make your menus. I learned this concept early on especially when I would get a CSA box during off periods for farmers markets.It has never failed me as it is basically reverse engineered menu planning. I would sometimes Google a lot at first when I got something new in the box but at farmers markets, here’s the better option… Ask the farmer how they like to prepare it the best. Better than googling, this gives farmers the opportunity to talk about their produce and it gives you the opportunity to begin forming a relationship with them as you acknowledge their authority on the subject. After all, they are eating this very produce every day.
4) Only Buy What You Will Eat in a Week - The idea is to eat fresh and even the freshest veggies can last so long in the fridge. You are doing such a great job nourishing your family with this fresh food, so get the most nutrients out of it by eating within 7 days or less.
5) Be prepared with cash, your own bags or a basket and a cooler -
Many farmers accept credit cards, but until you are familiar with those that do, take cash. I usually start with at least $25 but during summer or other plentiful seasons I take $40-50 for all the fruit and tomatoes.
Bags save the farmers money but the basket goes a step further to make sure your veggies aren’t stacked on each other. This is the basket I shopped with for years.
A cooler is especially important in the dead of summer (or in Texas as early as late April!) if you aren’t going straight home. Greens especially are subject to heat but you never know what you will find, so you want to have a place to stash frozen meats, tamales, cheeses, or other perishables that you may pick up.
6) Become a Regular - Get on the farmers market’s mailing lists and go every time you possibly can. Many markets open more than one day a week during especially productive periods like mid-to-late summer which gives you more opportunity to really stock up on the seasonal goodness. If there is only a threat of bad weather, chances are the farmers will be there so make an effort to go out and support them unless it is right on top of you or the market and chances are then the farmers won’t be there. (Check their social media feeds or email.) Bad weather negatively impacts farmers in so many ways, but if we can buy what they get to market, we can help offset that.
7) Ask about “seconds” - Referring to the produce that isn’t as pretty but just as useful, many times you can get a really great deal especially on boxes. Tomatoes, apples and stone fruits are many times available like this and are perfect for freezing or canning.
8) Make it a Social Event - Meet up with friends. It will not only keep you accountable for getting there but best of all, you are multiplying the attendance of the market. More people to support those who are providing us with nutritional, locally grown food means more food for us in the future..Also, many markets have prepared food stands, food trucks and even coffee and ice cream vendors on hand to allow you to make a morning or evening of it.
9) Take the whole family - While it might be more convenient to leave the kids at home, take them along so they can see who grows their food. I still talk to our kids about the farmers they met when they were little and they know them. When one of our favorite farmers passed away, they knew him by name and remembered things about him as we talked about it that night. Many of the farmers will even be open to you bringing your kids to their farm to see where the food actually grows. Again…this comes with relationship. That same farmer I just talked about? He was kind of crotchety at first, but after I got to know him, he let us come out to his farm and pick peaches and ride the tractor around the farm.
10) Share with everyone you know that is local. Post your farmers market finds on social media using #’s for the farmers market (most farmers markets are on social media) and do the “old fashioned” thing of verbally telling your neighbors, friends and families. Having access to sustainable locally grown produce is no longer a given and many farmers give up because it is a hard business. BUT…word of mouth goes a long way to growing each market to a point they can keep going.
The one thing to never do at a Farmers market
DO NOT ask farmers if they are an organic farm or if their produce is organically grown. If they are a certified organic farm, they will have banners that state this. If they don’t, assume they aren’t but ask questions to find out the information you need to feel comfortable buying from them. Many farmers choose not to go the route of having their farm certified as organic due to expense, the multi-year process and red tape involved, yet they still use sustainable methods that may even go beyond organic principals.
Here are some questions to start with, but of course, do your research if there are specific methods you are seeking or trying to avoid:
What methods do you use for pest and weed control or fertilization?
Do you rotate crops?
Do you grow conventionally? This is probably the most basic question and may not get you the specific answers you are seeking.
Farmers Markets offer a much more communal approach to “gathering” your food.
It is a way to bring back community to our most basic everyday needs and yes, it takes a little more effort than going by the store, but I promise you once you work it into your routine, you will miss it when you don’t make it. If it is just too far out of reach for you on a weekly basis, look for local CSA farms that has locally grown near you delivered in a box to you or dropped to a location close to your home.. Go to this link to see what your area has to offer.