Visiting a local farmers’ market, sometimes called a greenmarket, is the easiest way to instantly plunge into the world of fresh local food at peak flavor and connect face-to-face with the farmers who grow it.
One of the first things to learn about shopping at a farmers’ market is simply when it’s open. Unlike the supermarket, the hours of operation at a farmers’ market vary: many open one day a week (sometimes for the whole day and sometimes just a few hours), while more active markets in large cities may be open as often as seven days a week. Peak market times are during the growing season. (For the growing season in your region, go to the Sustainable Table.)
It is also common for markets to remain open after the growing season ends, as well. These shoulder-month sales are likely to include greenhouse items, cold storage crops (such as apples and potatoes), value-added products (such as jams and pickles), nonperishable items, or less season driven items like frozen butchered meats and aged farmstead cheeses.
TIPS FOR FARMERS’ MARKET SHOPPING:
- Take cash. Some farmers’ markets don’t take checks or credit cards.
- Don’t shop hungry. Hungry people make irrational decisions without thinking clearly, grabbing what smells tasty or looks colorful.
- Get an early start when you can, as many markets run out of the best produce, especially at the beginning of the season.
- Make a list, but be flexible. If you take a shopping list, be prepared to adapt it to include unexpected finds.
- BYO bags. Take sturdy, reusable shopping bags. (The lifetime of one reusable bag replaces the one thousand plastic bags you’d need to carry the same quantity of food.) Or take a pretty basket or even a red wagon for your kids and then pile food all around them.
LOOK BEFORE YOU SHOP
Taking a quick tour of the market before you buy anything will serve you well. Check out the full spectrum of your food choices, learn the vendors’ locations, and soak up the distinctive flavor of the market.Excerpt from The Locavore Way © 2009 by Amy Cotler.
Let your eyes feast. Some vendors may even offer a taste of something they’re particularly proud of, such as an heirloom apple or tomato. Be sure to look for and ask questions about ingredients you’re not familiar with.
Markets often offer cultivars (specific varieties) of fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and poultry breeds, that aren’t available in supermarkets. Learn each vendor’s specialty. There may be a farmer who has a large selection of greens and can instruct you about which are bitter, sweet, crunchy, or tender. Or you can buy and try several varieties first, then go back the next week and purchase what strikes your fancy.
Look for hidden treasures. You’ll find especially popular vendors with lines of hovering shoppers, but you’re likely to spot unexpected pleasures, too. Check out the less flamboyant vendors, stocked with regional meats in large ice chests, fresh eggs, local artisanal cheeses. Also look for value-added items, such as soups or sauces, breads, and other foods that are sometimes made from local ingredients.
Prioritize your purchases. Getting the big picture before you shop will allow you to plan on picking up the heaviest ingredients last. Meat, corn, potatoes, and cabbages can really weigh you down! A preshopping tour gives you a good sense of which fruits and vegetables are in peak season; there will likely be plenty of those.
Every time I plunge in before I look around, I end up finding a perfect hard-to-find ingredient, such as fraises du bois — tiny alpine strawberries in season ever so briefly — after my bag is full and my budget has run out.
Illustrations by © Marc Rosenthal
To learn more about eating, cooking, growing, and supporting local food, check out Amy's blog.
Return to Inside Storey next week for the upcoming post
Shopping the Farmers' Market: Be Savvy and Stock Up
To find a Farmer's Market and other local food retailers in your are, go to Eat Well Guide