11 Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips to Know Before You Visit

Image of fresh vegetables in a straw basket with a banner that reads farmers market shopping tips.

Here are a few tips that can make shopping at the farmer’s market easy and fun.

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Here are some tips to help you find the best produce and enjoy spending time at the farmer’s market.

In many parts of the country, local farmer’s markets start in March or April and run until October or November. Since many markets are located outdoors, the market tends to happen during the warmer months of the year.

The reasons to shop at a farmer’s market are many. If you love heirloom tomatoes or the taste of fresh, classic summer vegetables like sweet corn, peaches, peppers, or watermelon, then a farmer’s market is a great place to shop.

If you like to find locally made handmade goods and artisan products, then the farmer’s market can be a good place to look for them. Many farmer’s markets feature vendors who sell handmade goods, like soaps.

The farmer’s market can also be a great place to look for fresh eggs, meat, and poultry, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt (just make sure that the products are stored at proper temperatures). Bring a cooler filled with ice to transport dairy, meat, and other refrigerated products home.

So if you love fresh produce, learning new things, and exciting culinary opportunities, then a trip to the farmer’s market may be just the thing for you.

Why Shop at a Farmer’s Market

Shopping at a farmer’s market can be a great way to get fresh food that you’ll love to eat.

Reasons to shop at a farmer’s market include:

  • Shop fresh. Shop for fresh, locally grown produce and locally sourced food. Few things are better than enjoying fresh tomatoes or sweet corn picked at the peak time to harvest those foods.
  • Support the local economy. Shopping at the farmer’s market can help to support local producers in your area. Plus, you may be able to better know how your food is produced or grown.
  • Be more sustainable. Shopping at a farmer’s market can be a more sustainable way to shop, especially if the food is grown locally using sustainable practices. Plus, you can help to support a local farmer and build a good relationship that helps you to be more knowledgeable about where your food comes from and what to do with it.
  • Try new and interesting foods. Farmer’s markets are often filled with interesting food varieties, from heirloom tomatoes to rare or unusual vegetables, like potimarron squash or purple kohlrabi—the kinds of produce that you may not typically see in a grocery store.
  • The food tastes better. Food that doesn’t spend a lot of time in storage or traveling to a destination tends to retain some of its flavor better. Few things taste better than produce that was freshly picked the same morning that you buy it.

Know Your Seasons

The types of produce and food products that are available at a farmer’s market at vary from season to season. The types of food available also depend on where you are located and what farmer’s are able to grow.

Examples of seasonal produce include:

Spring

Early spring is a good time to find cool season fruits and vegetables, like arugula, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, peas, radishes, spinach, and spring onions. Fresh herbs, like chives, garlic, parsley, rosemary, and thyme, are also often available.

Summer

The summer season brings warm weather vegetables, like beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon. It’s also a great time to look for goods like fresh flowers and jars of honey.

Fall

Fall is a great time to look for classic autumn vegetables, like beets, carrots, leafy greens, lettuce, kale, pumpkins, Swiss chard, and winter squash. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and apples are also in season.

Winter

Low light conditions in winter can make it difficult to grow food. Still, you may be able to find cool season vegetables—like root vegetables and leafy greens, at some farmer’s markets, if they are open in winter.

Some farmers have greenhouses and hoop houses that allow them to extend the seasons and grow different types of produce year round. So you may be able to find greenhouse grown tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in October, for example.

Depending on where you live, avocados and citrus fruits, like clementines, grapefruit, and oranges, may also be available.

Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips to Know

1—Do your research.

Find out information about the farmer’s market that you are interested in, such as where it is located, when it is open, and what payment methods are accepted. Some farmer’s markets have websites, while others operate largely by word of mouth. The official website for a city, town, or municipality can also be a good place to find out information about local farmer’s markets.

Check to see if your farmer’s market has a schedule that tells you what produce tends to be in season when, or what special events will happen at the market during the season. If the farmer’s market has an annual fall festival with hayrides and apple cider, then you probably don’t want to miss it!

2—Make a plan.

While it’s fun to browse, it can also be a good idea to make a plan so that you know what items to look for. Having a few meals in mind to prepare for the week, and making a list of ingredients to shop for, can help prevent buying more food than you need.

Get to know what produce tends to be available each season, as this can help you make a meal plan. For example, spring is a great time to shop for lettuce, carrots, radishes, kale, and other cool season vegetables that are great for making sandwiches and salads—along with beets, kohlrabi, parsnips, and other vegetables that are good for roasting.

Summer is the best time to find tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and zucchini—terrific vegetables for making vegetable casserole or tian, ratatouille, stir fry, and more. Summer fruit like sun-ripened peaches, nectarines, plums, melons, and watermelons are also popular.

Fall brings the return of cool season vegetables, along with autumn favorites like apples, blackberries, blueberries, pumpkin, and winter squash.

Find out if your farmer’s market provides a map that makes it easier to find out where vendors are located.

3—Shop early.

In general, it’s best to shop early to have the best selection when visiting a farmer’s market. Popular items, like fresh eggs and berries, tend to sell out fast. It can also be easier to shop at the market when there are fewer crowds.

4—Bring small bills and change.

Find out what methods of payment are accepted by different vendors at the farmer’s market. Not all vendors are able to accept electronic payments. In that case, it can be useful to have small bills and change to pay for your items.

5—Bring your own bags.

Bring your own shopping bags to carry purchases. Not all markets or vendors provide bags. Reusable shopping bags can be fantastic for carrying a farmer’s market haul, plus they come in different colors and designs to match your personality or style. A wheeled cart can also make it easier to carry your farmer’s market haul.

6—Ask questions.

If you are unfamiliar with a type of fruit, vegetable, or food that is being sold, ask the grower about it. Also find out if they have a recipe or can recommend a way to prepare the food.

It can be good to get to know the farmers who are growing your food. They may let you know about special items that are coming up, and if you need a larger quantity of produce for canning or preserving, you can talk to them about the possibility of making arrangements to buy produce in bulk, if you need it.

7—Learn to make substitutes.

Seasonality, weather, and other factors can affect what items are available at the farmer’s market each week. Learn what items make good substitutes, in case your favorite items aren’t available. Stir fry is great to make using different combinations of vegetables that you can get.

If you had your heart set on making blackberry pie, but no blackberries are available, consider using blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries, instead. Berries are perfect for making a berry buckle recipe and for adding to muffins or yogurt, or other breakfast foods and desserts.

Consider using the food that is available in different ways, such as using pumpkin to make a Moroccan style stew or savory roasted pumpkin, a great side dish for fall and winter.

8—Only buy what you need.

It can be tempting to buy everything on sight when faced with row after row of bright, colorful fruits and vegetables, farm fresh eggs, fresh breads, jams and jellies, and other products, but it’s generally best to only buy what you need. Try small amounts of foods and products that are new to you, or from a new vendor, before making big purchases.

If you know how to preserve food, such as washing, blanching, and freezing vegetables, washing and freezing berries, or canning or dehydrating produce, then you can make your produce last longer. Share extra produce with family and friends if you can’t use it all within a few days or a week.

9—Be flexible.

Leave room in your plan—and budget—for trying new things. The farmer’s market can be a great place to discover new and unexpected fruits and vegetables to add to your plate. Ask for a sample of a new product, or buy a small bunch to try.

10—Have the right tools.

Much of the food that’s available at the farmer’s market is unprocessed, whole food. You’ll need to wash the produce at home, and you’ll probably also need to trim roots, stems, and leaves from some of the fruits and vegetables that you buy. A colander can make it easier to rinse off food.

11—Learn to preserve food.

The farmer’s market is one of the best places to get fresh, local food, but you may not be able to use it all while it’s still good. If you find yourself with a lot of produce, and you worry about using up the produce while it’s fresh, then consider preserving the food to help maintain it’s quality and flavor.

Preserving foods can include canning, dehydrating, and freezing food. Bulk purchases, like tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers, are great for making salsa, jams, and pickles.

This post was all about how to shop at a farmer’s market.

Credits
  • Photo by RODNAE Productions / Pexels
  • Photos are for illustrative purposes only.

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