One of my favorite Saturday morning summer pastimes is visiting our local Farmer’s Market.
My “go to” booths include those run by the “Lettuce Ladies,” two elderly women who fill a big bag with four enormous, crisp heads of lettuce for $4, Bill, who sells Sunflower bouquets for $3, and a father and daughter who only sell organic, heirloom vegetables.
I also purchase yellow flesh watermelons (they look like regular watermelons but are mango colored inside), lots of fresh herbs, and all sorts of in season fruits and vegetables.
With the growing “farm to table” movement, local farmer’s markets are more popular than ever as an increasing number of people become interested in purchasing unprocessed, fresh, and organic produce and become aware of “food miles,” the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer.
For many of you, these tips will already be familiar, but if I can help one person avoid my novice mistakes, I’ll be happy!
Farmer’s Market Tips: Before You Go
Depending on how big your local market is, the experience can be somewhat overwhelming with dozens or even hundreds of booths selling everything from produce and flowers to grass-fed meat and honey. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead.
1. Think about your menu for the week and figure out what’s fresh and in season before you go. And remember, be bold; if you know something’s in season that you’ve never tasted, it’s the perfect time to give it a try. Here’s a link from about.com that shows when produce is at its peak.
Related to this is the idea of buying in bulk. Do you love fresh blueberries? Buy them in bulk and freeze them for the winter.
2. Your local Farmer’s market is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags), so make sure they’re big and sturdy. If you know you’re getting a lot of stuff, borrow a wagon or cart, and if you then decide to make the trip a regular part of your routine, invest in your own.
You can also bring a cooler (if you plan to purchase meat or dairy items) and wet paper towels to keep herbs and flowers fresh.
3. Bring small bills and plenty of quarters. You’re not at a grocery store, so be considerate.
4. Decide when to arrive. It’s true that the early bird gets the worm or the morels or other scarce produce. However, if you’re just buying typical vegetables, then you might want to get there an hour or so before closing time when some farmers offer deals.
Farmer’s Market Tips: When you Get There
1. Don’t buy from the first booth you see. Take time to walk around and look at the prices and the produce. Remember, this isn’t a grocery store, so the fruits and vegetables may still have loose dirt or be a bit misshapen.
2. Talk to the growers. They take pride in their work and are happy to give suggestions for using unfamiliar vegetables or herbs.
3. Certain food is just better from a local farmer’s market. I’m talking about tomatoes, carrots, and berries, to name just a few. For a list of eight “must buys,” click here.
The corollary to #3 is that there are certain items you shouldn’t purchase, like honey, out of season items plus a few others. For a list compiled by wisebread.com, click here. Although they discourage purchasing meat, I have on occasion purchased grass-fed meat at our market and been quite happy with it.
4. As you continue to buy, don’t forget to rearrange your bags. Cucumbers and carrots should be on the bottom, tomatoes and berries on the top.
Farmer’s Market Tips: When you Get Home
1. Once you get home, store your items appropriately. Herbs, for example, should be stored in different ways, depending on what they are. Other items like tomatoes and melons should be kept on the counter for the best taste. Click here to see other foods that shouldn’t be refrigerated.
2. Have fun! Now it’s time to prepare and eat all that delicious, fresh food. Here are dozens of recipes compiled by about.com using summer produce.
Now, if you’re ready to take the Farmer’s Market plunge, you can click this link and find ones near to you. Enjoy!