Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Farmers' Market Shopping Tips

TEL_1230, originally uploaded by Thomas Lester.

I promised that I would write a follow up giving some guidance to those of you that have never shopped at a Farmers' Market. I was a little intimidated before I made my first visit, so I did some research. So, here's my thoughts on getting the most out of your farmers market.

  • Rule of thumb...  go in the morning for the best quality, go in the afternoon for the best deals.  The farmers don't like to take their goods back home with them.  It's a hassle.  So, later in the afternoon, they are likely to make some really good deals.  However, heat sensitive produce may not be all that great.  So, if you have to pickup greens, leafy veggies, etc...  do it in the morning.  If you are picking up corn, peppers, potatoes, etc..   you can get some good deals in the afternoon.
  • Make the rounds before you purchase.  Take some time and visit each of the vendors.  Some may have obviously better quality than others that day.  Some may have some unique items that you weren't expecting.
  • Be flexible.  This is farming...   weather, time of the year, etc. will effect the quality of the produce.  Also, the vendors may have a deal on one item that they have a lot of.  So, you may have zucchini on your list, but the quality or price of yellow squash may be better that day.  See the picture above...   15 pieces of squash is a lot of squash!  I made a huge squash casserole for our church picnic and I still have enough left over for 2 meals (at least).
  • Bring your own bags.  This is important, not only because the vendors may not have them (or they may run out), but it's also important for living green.  Get yourself a couple of large reusable produce bags.  If you need plastic grocery style bags, bring some with you that you have from your regular grocery shopping.  Recycle them by using them at the farmers market.  If you have left overs, don't throw them away, give them to the farmers!
  • Bring dollars and quarters.  Yeah...  you are going to think this is highway robbery when I tell you that you need to bring quarters.  Some purchases literally don't add up to even a full dollar!  Aside from the price, the farmers run low on quarters very quickly.  Go to the bank and get $5-10 worth of quarters and pay with quarters.  The farmers will love you and they may even give you a deal for paying with quarters.  Bring dollars, too.  Many purchase are in the one to three dollars range.  Most everything I purchased was for one dollar.
  • No Credit Cards!  This is a cash only biz.  No big bills either.  Try to bring nothing larger than a five-spot, if possible.  
  • ASK QUESTIONS.  This is a huge tip.  Most of the time the people that you buying from are the same people that are farming the land.  These are the owner/operators of the farm.  They are very proud of their product and love to talk about it.  If you don't recognize a particular item, ask them what it is.  Often time they'll offer you a sample.  If you like it, but are not sure how you'd prepare it, ask them.  They'll know.  They may share a secret family recipe with you.  Last...  if you buy some and you (or your family) liked it, then tell them next time you are there.  The vendors want to develop a relationship with you.  They like regular customers!
  • You are shopping at the farmers market because you want a good deal, a better product, or both.  I like both, especially the good deal.  However, you are not their to take the farmers shirt.  Trust me...  you are going to get a great deal, but don't feel like you need to haggle every little purchase.  Like I mentioned above, the vendor what's to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with you.  If you become a regular, you are likely to not only get a great deal, but you may often get pointed to that "special" bushel that is extremely high quality that the vendor is saving for his/her regulars.
  • Experiment.  Don't be a fuddy duddy, try some new things.  There will be produce that you've likely never seen before.  Get some.  It may become your new favorite.
  • Last, but definitely not least, protect your purchase.  If you don't live close by, bring a cooler with some freeze packs inside to cary your goods home.  This is especially important if you get some fish or seafood (several vendors at the Jacksonville Farmers Market have fresh seafood).
I hope that helps ease some anxiety about going to the farmers market for the first time.  If you have any questions, please post a comment and I'll try to answer ASAP.

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