Last week, a farmer’s market opened next to the White House. It’s even called the White House Farmer’s Market. I believe this is what we’d call the peak of the farmer’s market trend. So what does this mean for you? If you haven’t already discovered the wonders of the farmer’s market, it’s time to go. Chances are there’s a market very near you.
Finding Local Markets
New markets open every week. To find your local market, Google your city + “farmer’s market.” If you can’t find anything, try searching for your county or visit Local Harvest to search their database. Depending on your region, the market may not be open year-round, but you can probably get in at least one or two weekends now to whet your appetite for the return of the market in the spring. Visit Local Harvest, the farmer’s market organization’s website, or call the number you find online to find out the opening and closing dates.
Shopping Local Markets
If this is your first visit, don’t bother making a list. Although I plan my menu and then go to the market to buy what I need (and buy a few things that aren’t on the list), I’ve been going long enough that I know what’s in season. Give yourself a few weeks to get a feel for the cycle of the seasons at your market. You may find that some things are available year-round, while others are only available for a month, or even just two weeks. If you see a favorite item that’s expensive at the grocery store and has a short season, snap it up when you see it. It may be another year before it’s back.
Saving Money at the Market
Now that farmer’s markets are trendy, not everything will be cheaper than the prices you’ll get in a grocery store. However, the food will be fresher, more plentiful, and better tasting. As an example, a head of organic lettuce from my farmer’s market is $1.50. A head of conventional lettuce from the grocery store is $1.69 for a head half the size. True, the organic head might have holes in a few of the outer leaves, but I still get way more for my money. At the peak of the season, my grocery store might drop their price to 99 cents, but I’m still only getting about half a head of lettuce for that price.
If you’re really determined to save money at the market, you should plan to shop late in the day. The pickings will be slimmer, but you’ll find bargains on some of what’s left. In this case, it’s best to buy what you can and then plan a menu around those items.
What to Bring
I often see people loaded down with plastic bags at my local farmer’s market, which makes it difficult for them to walk around. Before heading out to the market, gather a few items:
Tote bags – I bring two, one for each shoulder. One of them is a cooler bag from Trader Joe’s in case I buy meat or eggs.
Produce bags – If you’ve made produce bags, bring them with you. If you haven’t, rinse out the plastic produce bags you got on your last grocery store visit and bring those. Most of the stands at my markets have large white plastic bags, which can make it difficult to see the produce once it’s in the fridge. I only use their bags for lettuce and grapes, both of which tend to shrivel in my net produce bags.
Cash – Bring lots of cash. I usually bring $40, $60 if I have meat, bread, and eggs to buy. If you have smaller change than $20 bills, the farmers will appreciate it, but they always have change. Most food stands can’t take credit. Some markets do have “market bucks,” which are vouchers you buy at the info booth and spend like cash and you might be able to buy those with credit if they’re available.
Pen and paper – If it’s your first visit, bring pen and paper so you can note the prices to compare to your local grocery store.
Imagination – If you see something unusual, consider buying it and then figuring out how to use it. You can ask the farmer for ideas, too. They usually have a couple preferred ways to prepare a specific vegetable.
What Not to Bring
Don’t bring an attitude. If the market is popular, parking may be a problem. Certain stands will also be crowded. There will be strollers, small children wandering, and people with rolling baskets or bags. Just be patient and keep a smile on your face. Everyone there is nice.