Friday, October 24, 2014

9 Tips for Farmers Market shopping

As a farmers market vendor for years, I have years of experience as a buyer and a seller at farmers markets. Here are my 9 suggestions to make the most of your shopping trip

1. Arrive early. You will enjoy the best parking, freshest selection and lightest crowds. The first hour of market is the best. Many vendors will run out of product by the last hour of market.

2. Come with a list and some flexibility. If you have some specifics in mind, make a list. But be flexible enough to allow for some substitutions. If the boysenberries you hoped for aren't an option, try whatever fruit is available and in season. Some vendors - especially meat and cheese - only attend market every few weeks so keep that in mind as well.

3. Bring your own bags. This is a big push at markets now. Most vendors will have some, but you are encouraged to bring your own reusable bags. Think grocery bag and produce bag sized. They can even be plastic bags that you simply use again.

4. Think about a cart, wagon or backpack. Remember that your food is heavy and unlike a grocery store there aren't carts to borrow (but what a good idea). Wagons are the hardest to navigate around crowds. Strollers are a great option too.

5. Bring insulated bags. Much of your food will keep better if you keep it cool. Especially meat and cheese. Add at least one insulated bag to your reusable bag inventory.

6. Bring plenty of cash, ideally small bills. Breaking a $100 at 7:40 am may not even be an option. Bring plenty of 5s 10s and 20s. Some market vendors do take credit cards but know that the farmers are then paying very high fees for that service. Close to 10% of what you pay on smaller transactions can end up going right to the credit card processor. This cuts into the already tight margins of the farmer. But, in a pinch (or a big sale) many vendors will accept it.

7. Talk to the farmers. When things are busy be mindful of the other customers but don't be afraid to ask the farmer about the products or how to cook them. If you are there early, there is even more time for chatting.

8. Bring an open mind and be willing to try new things. Many farmers will have suggestions on how to cook or prepare a food. Try it out and enjoy a new food! Ugly food can be very tasty.
9. Go certified. In California we have certified markets who actually verify that the farmers grow what they sell. This helps make sure that the food is actually local and wasn't stolen. No all markets are certified, but the vendors will often still showcase their certificates. Think of it as a certificate of authenticity.

What do you think? What tips am I missing to make the most of your farmers market shopping trip?

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