Easy Farmer’s Market Tips
Why do you need farmer’s market tips? Why even go to a farmer’s market? Well, it’s a lot of fun, but there are more serious reasons. There is much concern over food these days. Some folks prefer “conventionally” grown foods, those genetically modified to grow even when doused with herbicide. Others lobby to these products, wishing to choose food grown under more “natural” conditions. Even when regulations are made and official labels produced, errors and fraud still happen. Most of us don’t claim to trust the government when it comes to food anyway. Others like me hate the use of government force – “Don’t tell them what to do, let me choose”! Is there no “right” answer? Probably not, but there’s a really great way around the issue.
Know your farmer. Know your food. Meet your baker, your breeder, your butcher. It’s not as difficult as you might think, even for urban-dwellers! A trip to your nearest farmer’s market is just the ticket. You’ll be able to get to know more about the people who grew or raised or made your food, and the techniques they used to do so. To find your closest farmer’s market, take a look at the information in this article. Once you’ve found a market that suits you, use these farmer’s market tips to make the most of your experience.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #1
Don’t Expect Every Booth to Have a Farmer
As businesses grow, they might hire someone to staff their booth while they stay at the farm or work another market location. Yay, and good for them! That’s what we want. What you’re going to look for at that point is a flyer that tells you how they treat their animals, or a business card so you can call and ask about their organic farming practices. Their staff will likely be able to answer basic questions as well, but don’t get too concerned if they can’t – they aren’t there for an interrogation. Accept what information they have available, and follow up later.
You’ll also find plenty of booths for products, rather than produce. Homemade jams, baked goods, cheeses, and a multitude of home-canned items can be found at farmer’s markets. Soap, textiles, essential oils, and crafts may also be permitted. I can’t tell you how much I love buying soap from the lady who cooks together the oils and lye before spiking them with natural scents or helpful herbs. And my friend Kendra’s organic cinnamon bread? Shut the front door! I’ve driven to the market with that as my only goal, the farmer in the next booth an afterthought.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #2
Be Flexible and Taste
Just a week can make all the difference in the world when it comes to produce. You might have seen gorgeous garlic scapes at last week’s market, but didn’t know how to use them. By the time you came back this week, there were no scapes. But you’d planned dinner around having them. Sigh. They’re only in season for two or three weeks, and you had no idea. You’re new to this, for crying out loud! And doggone it, you had a plan! Chill. Grab a coffee. That’s not how it works in local produce.
When you go to the farmer’s market, there may be a lot of fruits and veggies you don’t know how to use. And they might not have the specific fruit you’re wanting. That’s OK! Frequently, the person behind the counter will be able to give you great tips for substitutions. You’re on the internet right now, so you’re capable of buying that crazy veggie and figuring out how to use it via Google or Pinterest.
Don’t be afraid to taste the samples offered, even if you’re not sure you’ll buy! If your farmer discovers you don’t like chard because it’s too bitter, maybe he can point you to some other greens that have a sweeter taste. I discovered ground cherries (a nightshade fruit) when a local chef stopped by the booth I was scanning and didn’t know what they were. When he got a sample, the farmer did not hesitate to offer one to the rest of us, as well. He had just known to ask, while I stood there looking dumb. Due to that sample, I bought a pound of the delicious fruits, and planted them the next spring in my own garden.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #3
Bring a Friend
You don’t have to be going for the same reasons. Maybe you’re wanting to learn about organic pest control, and your friend likes soaps and crafts. That’s OK! And it doesn’t have to be a friend, it can be a relative or even a casual acquaintance. And they don’t have to be familiar with the farmer’s market, either! It’s more fun to taste the jam if your friend is there to try the new flavors, too. Maybe they’ll think of questions you forgot, or share a sip of their fresh lemonade.
Going in a group of two or more also has a practical side. Each of you is there to help carry something if bags get heavy. To remind you of what you were going to buy, or interpret the GPS directions into what’s printed on street signs. To watch your bags while you go to the bathroom, which is sometimes in an outdoor way, if you catch my drift. If you’re single or have a small family, you and your friend can split up purchases when you get home; a whole pie might not get eaten in your house, but between both your houses you can get one and share. Essential oils, herbal remedies, and other farmer’s market staples can be pricey, but many can also be split into smaller containers and shared between friends.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #4
Take Cash – or Your SNAP Card
Many vendors have begun using apps and gadgets that allow them to take your debit or credit card at the counter, but it’s best not to count on it. Grab some cash just to be on the safe side! If you want to be especially favored, take small bills and change! People like me went to the ATM, and have been feeding vendors $20’s all day. They’ll be happy to see some small bills and quarters, especially if you’re early in the day.
Some markets offer a central location to buy tokens or “market cash” with a debit or credit card, which can then be used at all or most vendors at the farmer’s market. This may allow you to use your debit card, but there are sometimes service fees associated with this method. Know how much money you’ll need to avoid additional service fees for each transaction.
Many markets are able to accept SNAP. That’s food stamps or nutrition benefits for those of you who might be unfamiliar with the lingo. Check before you go, and ask how the process works. With some markets, certain vendors accept your SNAP card, while others may not. A different market may have you gather your purchases from each vendor, then pay at a central location with your card. Either way, you can get fresh, healthy, real food and a whole lot of information that you won’t get at the grocery store!
Farmer’s Market Tips – #5
Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You’ll Need
Many markets also have things to do! Ours has an active children’s program, where kids learn about planting, do projects, and become better acquainted with their food. There’s frequently some live music, worth sitting and watching as you mull over those purchases you didn’t make, but might. A tent may be set up to enjoy prepared food from food trucks and street vendors, while some farmer’s markets have full restaurants inside a shelter. And check the schedule, since some markets offer classes on growing or cooking taught by the very people you’d like to hear!
Maybe you’ll make a friend who can share recipes or can help you navigate to the most helpful people, and you want to sit down with a slice of pie or a danish and chat. Maybe you’ll find everything you need and have extra time to yourself. Whatever, don’t rush through. You’re trying to learn about your food, not hitting the grocery store for frozen pizza.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #6
Take a Shopping Bag or Tote
Oh, sure, these vendors are prepared for sales and will give you a bag. But you’ll probably buy one jar of jam at this booth, a bar of soap at another, a tiny bottle of essential oil over there, and a small bottle of raw, local honey at yet another. By the end of the farmer’s market, you have too many bags. Yes, it’s environmentally-friendly to use your own bag. Yes, it saves the vendors a little money on that sale. Mostly, though, it’s a whole lot easier to keep track of just that one bag rather than five or six smaller ones. I have a giant purse I use at the market; I drop my cell phone, cash, and a debit card into the bottom, then I have room left for any small items.
Don’t feel badly if you forget – another “trick” is to get a bag at your first stop, then fill it with items from future stops. It’s not as nice as carrying something with a shoulder strap or sturdy handles, but it’ll keep you from losing track of many small bags.
Farmer’s Market Tips – #7
Plan Your Attack
Some folks prefer to make the rounds and see what’s offered before making any purchases. Others look for a map, hitting only those booths with produce or those selling pickles. Remember that this is different from your local grocery store, and your regular routine might not hold up as well here. Be willing to change your plan, but it’s a good idea to have one. If the market has a central booth or information area, that can be a good place to make your first stop!
When I find a new market, I look for that information booth or area. Smaller markets may not have one, while a large markets may offer maps or information at several places. If it means walking to the other end of the farmer’s market in order to get to the information booth, I do generally browse and sample as I walk. No sense missing something on my way! But I avoid buying until I know what’s available. I absolutely do break this “rule” when I see something special or know what I want. That’s called “being flexible”, right?
It’s also perfectly OK to spend all your cash and get what you need at the first five booths, and not go to every booth at the farmer’s market. I think you’re be missing out if you don’t go explore, but it’s not a bad manners. Maybe you know exactly what you want. Maybe that’s how you shop, and your budget has been spent. You don’t have to give an explanation, and you’re still in good standing to go visit the other booths and learn what they offer, even if you’ve drained your wallet. Go back next time and hit the vendors where you would have made purchases last week. Remind them that you spoke, and said you’d return. Watch the vendor smile.
What are your favorite farmer’s market tips? Do you have a system that works, or does your market offer a service most don’t? Let us know!