14 Farmers’ Market Tips

How to save money on locally grown produce

1. Ditch the car

If possible, plan to walk, ride a bike, or take public transit to your farmers’ market. Parking can be a hassle.

2. Come early

Shop early in the day to get the best food and to avoid missing out on unusual items. Mid-week markets are quieter, but weekenders often have the best selection.

3. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

Arrive with sturdy cloth bags and small plastic or paper bags for loose items like berries or mushrooms. Bring a backpack or a basket to get everything back home.

4. Hit the ATM

Plan to pay cash. Bring more money than you think you'll need, and lots of small bills and change.

5. Look for the peak of the season

Three ways to save money: First, walk the whole market to check prices. Second, look for foods at their peak of seasonal abundance. Third, make arrangements with market farmers to buy bulk at a discount or to visit their farms for U-pick savings.

6. Shop smart to save money

Shop smart. A head of farmers’ market lettuce can appear higher priced than at the megamart, but may also be much larger—a Seattle University study found farmers’ market produce cheaper pound-for-pound than supermarket fare. As well, many people find they use fewer ingredients per meal when cooking with farmers’ market foods because they are more flavorful.

7. Bring the kids

The market experience goes a long way toward raising children who eat their vegetables, and there is often entertainment on site.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When was the corn picked? How do you cook squash flowers? How "free range" are the "free-range chickens"?

9. Taste test

Ask for a taste and offer to pay for it. Buying one tomato may save you from canning a bushel of tasteless ones.

10. Try something new

Experiment! Most farmers are happy to suggest ways to prepare a food you've never tried before. Buy ugly food—strange looking fruits and vegetables are often heritage varieties bred for taste rather than shelf life or visual appeal.

11. Organic isn’t everything

Organic food is everyone's market favorite, but don't ignore non-organic growers. In some locations, organic certification is too expensive or bureaucratic for small-scale farmers. Ask them what chemicals they use on their food; you may decide to choose low-spray products that are better priced.

12. Look for local frozen foods

Plan to go home right after the market, or bring a cooler. Frozen foods such as meat and fish are increasingly common at markets.

13. Match recipes to seasonal finds

Seasonal eating calls for different meal planning. Instead of picking a recipe and then shopping for the ingredients, buy what's in season and look for recipes to match.

14. Use the internet

Many farms now have websites with everything from foodie philosophy to photos of the living conditions of farm animals. To find your nearest farmers’ market online, check out localharvest.org.

J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith are the authors of the new book Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Year of Local Eating (Harmony Books).

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