There's nothing better than local farm markets for fresh produce. That is, unless you grow your own. I'm lucky enough to do both. Each summer I grow what I can in my backyard and shop from the back of pick-up trucks and simple road-side stands for the rest.
If you've never shopped at a farmer's market before, it's time to start!
Why Shop at Local Farm Markets?
Buying fresh, seasonal and locally produced food has nutritional and environmental benefits and helps support the farmers in your area. Of course, you will still have to buy produce in your grocery store since no part of the country grows everything you may need - especially if you like bananas - but your first stop should be the farm stand.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it easy to find farm markets in every state. Just plug-in your zip code on the Agriculture Marketing Service site to get market locations in your area and information about what's in season and forms of payment accepted.
If you prefer to buy organically grown produce you will find the prices much better than those charged in health food stores and supermarkets. Farms that have received organic certification will display a sign on their stand, but it's worth asking the others. Since getting certified is a costly process, many farmers use organic growing methods and skip the certification.
Tips on What to Buy
- Check your calendar before arriving to have an idea of how many meals you'll be shopping for in the coming week.
- Carry a cookbook to get recipe ideas for less familiar products.
- Be flexible with your menu plans, the market only carries what's ripe and recently harvested.
- Ask the farmer to identify unfamiliar items and how to prepare them. They love to share ideas.
- Don't forget some flowers for the table!
Tips on How to Shop
- Bring cash, preferably smaller bills.
- Tote your own bags for individual items and a strong satchel to put everything in.
- Use saved plastic baskets or other plastic containers with lids for delicate berries, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes.
- Put a cooler in the car if produce will be left in it for any length of time on hot days.
Tips on Buying in Bulk (for Canning, Drying & Freezing)
- Prices drop after the first harvest of any crop. If you want a quantity of something, wait until the second or third week it's for sale. (Ask the farmer for expected harvest dates.)
- Request "seconds," the slightly bruised pieces that are fine for jams and pies. Farmers are happy to sell them for less.
- Arrive later in the day to get close-out deals.
- Buy fresh herbs to make pesto.
Watch for my upcoming story on pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms - the perfect combination of food and fitness in a fun afternoon!