Ready to commit part of your family’s food budget to buying local and supporting small farmers? Here’s how to shop like a pro:
LEAVE THE LIST AT HOME. If you’re a planner, by all means have a sense of what you’ll need for the next week’s dinners. But be spontaneous. Put at least one meal together from what you discover that day at the market. Serendipity and discovery are joys of market shopping.
BRING A TOTE. “Come with a market bag, so it’s not an additional expense for the person who’s working hard to bring their very best to you,” says Anderson market manager Nancy Downs.
TALK WITH THE FARMERS. Ask when the corn was picked. Ask how the beef cattle were raised. Ask the difference between a Beefsteak and a Mortgage Lifter tomato. “We want growers who can talk about how they grow what they grow,” says Hyde Park market co-founder Mary Ida Compton. “Part of what we do is education for the patrons of the market. We want those conversations to be happening.“
TRY SOMETHING NEW. Kale wasn’t trendy until all of us non-kale-eaters decided to give it a try. Ditto Swiss chard, purple tomatoes, and garlic scapes. Somebody’s gotta love kohlrabi.
UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE PAYING FOR. Heirloom tomatoes, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs: They may be more expensive at a farmers’ market than at a big-box retailer. They’re also fresher and raised more carefully. “People need to understand that you’ll pay more at a farmers’ market,” Downs says. “But the question is, ‘What are you paying for?’ You’re paying someone who’s putting their labor-intensive costs into their product, whether it’s a farmer or a cottage producer.”
LOOK FOR BARGAINS. It’s poor form to haggle with farmers. But ask about bulk pricing or discounts on blemished tomatoes, soft strawberries, and bruised peaches, all great for canning.
ENJOY THE ADVENTURE. The shopping experience these days, whether you’re at a grocery store or a department store, is boring. The mix of merchandise is pretty much the same at every store. Not so at farmers’ markets. Each market has its own mix of farmers, product categories, and offerings.
BRING KIDS & DOG. But be mindful of said kids & dog. On crowded days, strollers and leashes can be traffic hazards.
Ready to head out to the markets? Head to the Find Your Market page for a list of neighborhoods that host farmers markets – there's one every day of the week!
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.