Summertime is the best time of the year for shopping farmers' markets. The fresh, sun-ripened produce tastes amazing and is usually pretty inexpensive (in some cases, even cheaper than the grocery store!). If you are new to shopping farmers' markets, these six tips will help you navigate the open-air vendors with confidence.
1. Do a quick walk around first. Many vendors are likely to have the same common fruits and veggies ... so take a quick walk around to see who has the freshest and most beautiful of each. Often times, I will buy cherry tomatoes from one farm, Roma tomatoes from another and heirlooms from a third. One of the great things about shopping at a farmers' market is that you can pick and choose like this ... it's like having a bunch of stores all in one place.
2. Bring your own bags. It's not just an environmentally-friendly measure. Bringing your own bags means that you won't have to go home with 10 bags each holding one or two items (and then have to do something with all those bags!).
3. Set a budget. It's easy to want to buy all the great things you see (quiche! Bread! Pesto!). But these so-called value-added products can raise your bill dramatically. Instead, set a budget of money or a number of these types of items so that you don't end up with a dramatically high expenditure
4. Talk to the farmers. One of the best things about going to the farmers' market is being able to interact with the people who actually grow the food. Ask them anything about farming and the produce they sell. Who knows, they might even introduce you to something new that you will adore. Last year, a farmer convinced me to try pole beans. Turns out, they are my fav type of green bean-like produce now.
5. Buy what you need. It's important that you consider how much you will really eat in the course of four days to a week. Overbuying isn't just a waste of money, but it's a waste of food too. So, be realistic with what you purchase.
6. Try something new! At farmers' markets you will find a greater array of fruits and vegetables than you will find in the grocery store. Make a point to try something new at least once or twice. Who knows ... you may find that you adore gooseberries and crave garlic scapes.
Sarah W. Caron (aka scaron) is a food writer, editor and blogger who writes about family-friendly foods and raising a healthy family at Sarah's Cucina Bella.