Interested in shopping at the farmers market? Here are some tips to get you started.
Find a market. In order to get the most out of the farmers market, I recommend first gathering information about the different farmers markets in your area. The website localharvest.org makes it easy to search for farmers markets in your area by zip code. You might also try a simple web search for farmers market associations in your state, county, city or metropolitan area. There are two main farmers market associations where I live, and their lists are more comprehensive than those on localharvest.org. You could also ask friends or check local magazines for information about farmers markets. You might want to try several different markets and see which one has the size, selection, and schedule you prefer. Most markets are on Saturdays or Sundays but some are on weekdays. If you can’t find a farmers market in your area, you can use localharvest.org to search for a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) in your area. I personally shop at the farmers market and participate in a CSA.
Find out what time the market really opens. Officially, my farmers market opens at 9 am and closes at 1 pm each Saturday. After shopping there for nearly a year, I found out that almost all the farmers showed up by 7 am in the summer, and 8 am in the winter. Before I figured this out, by the time I showed up at 9 am or 10 am, farmers were often out of items they had in limited quantity. Now I go at 8 am, especially if raspberries are in season.
Get to know the farmers. For me, having a personal relationship with the producers of my food is one of the most important benefits of shopping at the farmers market. I prefer to purchase from farms that send someone (like a family member) closely associated with the farm who can answer specific questions. For the stands I regularly purchase from, I know where the farms are, how long the family has owned the farm and how many generations have farmed it, and where their ancestors immigrated from. Also, if you make yourself known to the farmers, they will consider you a “regular,” which has certain perks for you and your kids. It is also really convenient to have the farmer know you well enough that you can say, “I want to can tomatoes next week. Could you bring me 20 pounds and give me a bulk discount?” And have them bring you 20 pounds of tomatoes in a large crate and let you take the crate and return it the following week.
Ask the farmers about how they grow their food. Not every small-scale family farm can afford the organic certification process, so it is worthwhile to ask a vendor if they use fertilizers or pesticides if you are interested in their produce. Some farms might do something in between organic and conventional. For example, I asked one farmer if they sprayed their peaches and nectarines. He told me they sprayed the trees, but never the fruit. This is definitely preferable to sprayed trees and sprayed fruit.