It’s summertime. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and summer produce is flourishing at its peak. One of the best ways to enjoy this wonderful seasonal produce is to shop at local farmers markets. As a consumer, utilizing farmers markets is one of the greenest things you can do. It provides support to local farmers, fresh (often organic) food, and keeps money in your community by eliminating the middleman, which often comes in the form of large supermarket chains. If you’re looking to keep it local, keep it healthy, or just explore the wonders of your own backyard, then the farmers market is a must. Read on to enjoy some tips that will make your next trip to the market more enjoyable and useful for you.
1) Arrive early or late! Shop at your farmers market early to avoid the crowd and have first pick of all produce. High-demand fruits and vegetables can sell out, so go early to increase your opportunity of finding these foods. Alternatively, you can also avoid the crowd by going late. Although foods may be picked over by the end of the day, you may also find prices to be a bit lower. Many farmers would rather discount their produce than haul it back to their farm so shopping late can be a great way to find deals (if the farmers market allows this practice).
2) Sample foods and shop around. Instead of crossing off half of your shopping list at the first booth where you stop, take the time to visit multiple stands before you make your selections. Many booths will have samples available for you to try. Taste around to compare flavors, textures and prices. If only the supermarket let you nibble each product before you bought it!
3) Bring your reusable bag. In the spirit of eating green, keep your carbon footprint low by bringing your own reusable bag. Some farmers markets will have plastic bags available to consumers while others have eliminated this practice all together. Either way, bringing your own sturdy bag (or basket!) from home is the way to go. I prefer to bring a backpack with me. Just put your produce on your back and voila, both hands free! Bringing the kids? Consider taking a wagon. This will enable you to pull along your heavier goods, like squash or watermelon, as well as the pumpkins you brought with you.
4) Bring dollars, not dogs. Leave your pooch at home as most markets do not allow them and they can be a hassle in a crowd. Do, however, bring plenty of cash, including small bills, to simplify transactions and avoid ATM fees.
5) Talk to your farmers and ASK QUESTIONS! Arguably, the most beneficial element of shopping at farmers markets is the omnipresent opportunity to converse with local farmers. What a novel idea—actually communicating with the people who grow the food we eat! In a society where consumers are so disconnected from the food put into their bodies, it is a great prospect and pleasure to utilize one’s shopping trip as an educational experience. Ask questions! Inquire about the farming practices used at each farm. Is their food organic or certified organic? Do they use sprays? What’s in the spray? How do they raise their animals? Is their meat grass-fed? Is the person you’re talking to actually the person who grew the food you’re buying? You will often be pleased with the answers you receive. If you’re not or if you’re unsure, this is probably a wake-up call to the types of things you have routinely been putting into your body. Take advantage of this wonderful (and unfortunately rare) opportunity to talk to your farmers and learn what is in the food you’re eating. This knowledge can be widely applicable and will hold useful for many of your future food choices, lasting much longer than the yummy berries you picked up!
6) Buy in bulk and buy vegetables. If money is a factor, consider buying items in bulk. Prices will be lower for higher quantities, so this is a great way to find deals. Just make sure you work to incorporate these bulk items into various meals and recipes so the food doesn’t go to waste. You can also freeze, dry or can food to make it last longer and enjoy seasonal produce after its peak time. In addition, if market prices have you wary, try buying more veggies. Fruit, as delicious and nutritious as it is, tends to be a tiny bit pricier than vegetables so integrating more veggies into your diet can be beneficial to your health and your wallet!
7) Don’t forget the herbs! Fresh basil, cilantro, thyme or mint can enliven any dish! Buying fresh herbs at farmers markets tends to be much cheaper than at the grocery store, and fresh herbs are so much tastier than dried or packaged ones. These bold fresh flavors will allow you to keep cooking simple by letting the herbs take the lead. Think Italian… just some fresh tomato, olive oil and basil (all of which can be found at your market) and you have yourself a tasty little treat!
8) Try new foods! Take advantage of the superb bounty laid out by your hard-working farmers to discover new foods! Seize the glories of seasonal produce and discover new tastes you didn’t know. Sample. Ask questions. Get curious to get excited! Enjoy the taste of a new veggie but don’t know how to cook it? Ask the farmer how to prepare it and which flavors it compliments. Farmers markets provide a superb chance to experience new foods you haven’t tried before, of all colors, shapes and sizes. The vast array of brilliant shades is enough to inspire even the most timid chef, and there is the satisfaction of knowing that you are benefiting your local farmer, the environment and your health. So go ahead! Hit the stands and go green! Or fuchsia, or gold, or crimson…