Local markets have traditionally served as a place to not only buy and sell goods, but also as a hub of community activity. These days, especially in the U.S. where conventional grocery stores rule the land and social capital is on the decline, farmers’ markets have reinvigorated this sense of community.
Connection is a great reason to shop at a farmers’ market, and not just in terms of interacting with other humans. When you’re outdoors, surrounded by produce that was harvested from local soil, you can also feel more connected to the earth. Farmers’ markets, which are filled with vitality (something not experienced while cruising the fluorescently lit, sterile aisles of grocery stores), can nourish your belly and renew your soul.
There are other reasons to shop at the farmers’ market, too. The food is fresh and in season, serving as a healthy option for your body, the environment, and local economy. Plus, taking a trip to the farmers’ market is an activity the whole family can enjoy—a wonderful opportunity to teach children about how the food system works.
With summer here, now is an ideal time to grab your reusable bags, kids, friends, or dogs (if they’re allowed) and head out to your local market. Follow these five tips to ensure you get the most from your shopping:
1. Be Inquisitive
Farmers spend their lives cultivating and caring for the food you eat. Many of them live, breathe, eat, and sleep growing nutritious foods, and they’re eager to share that passion with their customers. Ask questions about how the produce is grown or seek advice on food preparation or pairings. The farmers will appreciate the interaction, and you might learn a thing or two. As you build these relationships with your local farmers, don’t be surprised if they toss in an extra heirloom tomato or two once in a while.
2. Be Flexible
Shopping at conventional grocery stores has conditioned people to believe they should have apples in December and mandarins in July. Grocery stores import produce from all over the world, which can come at a high environmental cost, to provide shoppers with whichever fruits and vegetables they want, whenever they want. Shopping at a farmers’ market means you’re eating seasonally, which may lead to eating some unfamiliar produce.
If you’ve ever subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and received a box filled with squash blossoms and cherimoyas, you’ve probably experienced that “What on earth am I supposed to do with this thing?” feeling. But, this is a perfect way to expand your fruit and veggie horizons. You can ask the farmer how to prepare that produce or turn to Pinterest for some advice. You just might find that those “green” beans that are white with purple spots become your new favorite vegetable.
3. Know When to Go
If variety and quality are what you’re after, show up to the market early before the crowds arrive and you’ll find a better selection of produce. If price is your chief concern, head out to the market toward closing time. This is when farmers are trying to sell their last bits of produce before they head out for the day, so they’ll often offer discounts or throw in some extras for free.
4. Shop Around
Prices at farmers’ markets are not regulated the way they are at grocery stores, which is why you might find a basket of cherry tomatoes for $4 at one stand and $8 just a few stands down. It pays to be a savvy shopper. Though visiting several farmers can take some time, it’s worth it in the long run. Once you become familiar with who sells what and for how much, you’ll know where to spend your money.
5. Buy in Bulk
Think beyond what you’re going to consume in the next few days. Buying in bulk during a fruit or vegetable’s peak season (when there is high supply) or during a bumper crop (a crop that has yielded an unusually productive harvest) can save you money and allow you to enjoy that produce during its off-season. Imagine the delicious strawberry crumble you can make in December! Simply set aside anything you’re not going to eat right away, and freeze it, can it, or dry it.
Shopping at a farmers’ market can have multiple benefits not only for your health, but also for your soul overall. So if you haven’t tried one yet, look up when the next one is in your area and invite a friend to join you. Now that you know some pro tricks, you’ll be one savvy shopper.
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