Shopping At The Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Market bounty from a trip last summer.

Shopping at the Farmer’s Market is so different then shopping at the Supermarket that I thought I’d share a thing or two I have learned about doing so. This is a little tailored to the farmer’s market where I shop at and to the facts that I go there with two kids and we get the weeks groceries, but I hope you can gain something from it.

Get there early- 

I mean early. This year there isn’t a whole lot of fruit because of the heat, but when there is some, it goes FAST. We got there at 8 last week (it opens at 7) and it was too late to get cantaloupe. The first week last year that there were Watermelon they were also gone by 8. A LOT of the variety is gone by 9. By 10 good luck getting eggs. Obviously, it depends on your farmer’s market, but with ours if I can’t get there before 10 I don’t go and if I’m not there by 8 I want to cry.

We actually get cinnamon rolls from one of the booths there each week. By not cooking breakfast the first thing we are doing is getting ready to leave, not getting ready for the day, getting ready for breakfast, eating breakfast, and then getting ready to leave. It also makes getting up and out of the house less stressful for me and of course is a fun tradition!

Collapsible Wagon-
Carrying bags of vegetables around the farmer’s market just isn’t fun. Last year we had a pretty big stroller so we put Christopher in it and managed to find places here and there for other bits of produce. Not ideal, but it worked. We usually left carrying bags. At first this year we went with a stroller for the produce and I wore Natalia and Mark wore Christopher.

But now *angelic music* we have a collapsible red wagon. We are able to put it in our trunk then take it out for Christopher and the produce. It is SOOOO fantastic. Much better then cleverly hanging bags off of various handles and tucking zucchini in visors. It makes the trip much smoother.

Canvas Bags- 

Because there are no produce bags it is nice to have a large bag to put all the small bags of different vegetables. It isn’t just a matter of lowering waste in this case, it makes transporting the vegetables much easier. You can reduce your use of plastic bags by taking fabric produce bags or just taking grocery bags with you.

Jewel Boxes-

At our farmer’s market the farmers have grocery bags, but that is about it. Saving and taking jewel boxes help keep the more delicate fruits and vegetables safe. I have a variety of sizes from Basil, blueberries, tomatoes ect.  and can just choose the right size. They also provide a nice way to store the small produce when you get home. 

Shop what they have- 

Farmer’s market have local foods obviously. The foods vary by season and year. The heat of this year has made the selection much different then last year. They may not have quantity when it comes to choices but the foods they have there are so fresh, very nutritious, and delicious. So, be flexible. . When I menu plan at the farmer’s market I take a brisk walk through it noting what I can get THEN menu plan. Don’t take to long though or you might have to re-plan because the mint you wanted is no longer available. I usually don’t menu plan and just get what looks good and go from there. I’m starting to get the hang of being able to get the right amount of food for the week with limited plans in my head.

Don’t be afraid of new things-

One challenge we have with eating locally is a lot of locals foods are not our favorite foods. Mark does not care for greens, zucchini, white potatoes, onions or beets. He is passionate about local foods and so is always willing to dig into these things understanding that they are what are available. Through trying a variety of recipes and ways or preparing I have cooked “the best greens in the world” (not to be confused with “good”)  as well as beets and zucchini Mark has enjoyed. Tonight I played around with putting rhubarb in a savory dish because I want to learn to prepare all the vegetables available in a several different ways.

Don’t judge by looks- 

Super markets tend to sell “perfect” looking produce. There are more senses then just sight to take into consideration when buying produce. The produce at the farmer’s market might not “look” as perfect (or plastic) as the ones in the supermarket, but they taste much better. I got slightly orange tomatoes there a couple weeks ago that had about 100 times more flavor then the perfectly red ones at the store (they will turn red after being picked, but won’t increase in flavor.) There will be less uniformity, less size, and maybe different colors then you are used to, but that’s good. They’re more “real”.

Talk to the farmers-

They can tell you about their growing practices.

They know their products and can give you great advice on how to store and use them. I almost always ask, “how do you like to prepare this?”

Getting to buy directly from the farmers and see the pride they take in their food is the thing I enjoy most about shopping at the farmer’s market.

Simplicity – 

The foods have so much flavor because their fresh I am able to use them in more simple ways that still taste good. Making the vegetables taste good isn’t a matter of disguising the tastes of old, bitter, or starchy vegetables but more like “highlighting” them. It is amazing the flavor local tomatoes and cucumbers have!

Have time to prep the food- 

The foods are less ready to be stored then those at the supermarket. Tops might need to be removed (ex. carrots and beets), potatoes might need to be brushed, lettuce might need to be dried a bit before put into bags, ect. If you are unsure how to store a certain vegetable ask the farmers. Like I said, they know their food. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to get the foods put away.

Enjoy- 

This is true with most things you do, but try not to be rushed. Enjoy yourself. Take time to notice if the tomatoes at X booth look gorgeous. (Last week I got tomatoes from three different booths :D and cucumbers from two or three) Don’t just rush in and out. Take your time get to know the farmers (being respectful of their time of course), get to know the food, and enjoy yourself.

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