With the ongoing foodie craze, farmers markets are getting a lot more attention than they used to. Where else can you find the freshest local fruits and vegetables without growing them yourself? But if you’re a farmers market first-timer, there are some things you need to know before venturing into these non-commercial meccas.
Know What’s in Season — in Your Region
We’re all a little spoiled to commercial markets. You can get just about any fruit or veggie you want — sometimes all year round! But if you’re even considering a farmers market, you’ve noticed that sometimes that produce lacks one really important thing: peak freshness.
If you go to a farmers market, you’ll get the freshest produce, but you won’t always have the options you’re used to. That’s because you’re literally getting things straight from a farm a few miles away — no preservatives or flash-freezing or special breeding or circumstances to last longer. You just can’t grow great avocados naturally in Wisconsin and you can’t grow them anywhere during a freezing winter.
Know what fruits and veggies are in season and can be grown locally. Then plan accordingly.
Have Clear Expectations — Ask Questions
The foods and produce you’ll find at a farmers market aren’t processed. It probably came fresh off the vine the day before (if not that day) and hasn’t been cleaned. They’ll sell anything they can, so they won’t throw away smaller or larger specimens, so sizes will vary widely. Also, often, the apple that looks roughest on the outside is the best-tasting, freshest of the bunch.
That’s why you should ask questions. The farmers at the market don’t want to take you for a ride. They want you to come back. They’re also real experts when it comes to that fruit or vegetable (or they wouldn’t have enough to justify the farmers market fee). If you’re not sure about something, ask their advice. Then take it.
Plan, Plan Some More, Then Be Spontaneous
When you go to a farmers market, you should plan your menu just like you do when you go to a commercial market. Since you already know what produce will be available, plan to make dishes that highlight the fresh ingredients you’ll find there. But don’t be afraid to change the game plan.
At a farmers market, it’s not unusual to show up to find amazing produce a week or two before it’s actually in season. So many things factor into a plant’s peak, they just aren’t always predictable. The in season guidelines you’ll find online or in the Farmer’s Almanac are really just expert guesses based on averages and past statistics, so you may find things ahead of time (or may show up to find the veggie that’s supposed to be in season isn’t there because of bad crop conditions).
Plan your menu carefully, know it well, then be open to change when you get to the market. It will happen.
Bring Plenty of Cash and Be Prepared to Spend It
You probably won’t be able to run your debit card at a farmers market. Each vendor is independent and probably can’t afford to take the hit a credit card machine would cost on every transaction.
It’s also sometimes more expensive to buy produce at a farmers market. But you know the old adage: You get what you pay for.
Forget Fashion — Dress Comfortably
In some areas especially, farmers markets can be really big, with multiple vendors (many of them selling the same types of produce). You’ll want to stroll around once before buying anything. On your second go-around, you’ll want to take your time choosing.
Wear comfortable shoes and breathable fabric that moves well. And don’t wear anything you’re afraid to get dirty.
Not only will you be walking around in dirt (and maybe mud) in what may be a hot sun, the food at a farmers market isn’t processed. It will be dirty, which will get your hands (and eventually your clothes) dirty, too.
Unlike shopping in a traditional commercial market, when you go to a farmers market, you’ll probably get to talk to many interesting vendors who are more than willing to share their knowledge (and sometimes not-so-secret recipes) because they truly love what they do.
Don’t show up with your game face on, ready to race around the market beating everyone else to the best deal and the shortest line. The freshest fruits and vegetables are worth the wait!