I've been shopping at my local farmer's market for a couple years now. I started this habit for several reasons. I wanted to add more vegetables to my diet and eat healthier. Also, I wanted to support the local economy and the local farmers. In addition, I don't want herbicides and insecticides in my food and I believe these things pollute our environment. Most of the farmers at the market use very little or none of these chemicals so it's the type of food I'm looking for. Lastly, their food tastes amazing!!
I have learned that shopping at the farmer's market is very different than shopping at a grocery store. Through experience, experimentation, and much research I have figured out how to maximize this resource for my family. I've decided to list some tips here. I wish someone had given me a list like this when I first started exploring the market.
First - Don't make a list before shopping.
I know this is so counter-intuitive especially for those of us who love lists. However, if you make your meal plan first and then go to the farmer's market, you are going to be disappointed. Unlike a grocery store which has every product every time you enter, the market only has what was harvested that week. This is actually a benefit because their food is fresh and nutrient rich unlike the stuff we ship all over the country/world before it reaches the store. So, to maximize your enjoyment of the market, I suggest you go there first and get whatever fruits and vegetables you like. Then take them home and plan your meals around those items. The food you buy at the farmer's market will make all your favorite recipes even better.
Second - If you like it - buy it now!
I learned this lesson by making mistakes. My first summer I was so excited to see a local farmer selling chickens that he had raised and butchered himself. I knew this meant the animals had been treated with respect and lived a good life. Not only is this better for the animal, but it is healthier for the eater as well. I bought one and took it home to cook. The flavor was amazing! I hurried back the next week to buy another one and he was sold out. There would be no more that season. I was crushed. That is when I learned that if I see something I like, I need to grab it right away. This applies to vegetables and fruits as well. If the zucchini looks good, grab it today, it might not be there next week. Local food is seasonal and limited. I had to adjust to that if I wanted all the benefits that come with it. This year chickens were available again and I bought three right away. I only wish I could fit more in my freezer.
Third - Buy more than you need and preserve the extra.
This grows out of rule number two. If you buy something you are not going to use right away, then you need a way to make sure it does not get wasted. I know people who do canning and freeze-drying. I have not learned either of those skills yet, so my main preservation system is the freezer. I do batch cooking, doubling and tripling my favorite recipes and freezing them to have fast meals later. Also, I have learned which fruits and vegetables can be flash-frozen and which ones need to be blanched first. (This involves boiling the vegetable for a short time and then submerging them in a cold water bath before freezing.) I have made many mistakes and lost some food, but these mistakes teach me how to do it better the next time. I'm hoping to have enough vegetables in the freezer this year so I don't have to buy any at the store this winter.
Fourth - Try not to compare the prices with supermarket prices.
It is very tempting at first to look at the prices of the food at the farmer's market and turn away because it is cheaper at the local big-box store. However, please remember, this is not the same food. Those tomatoes may look similar to the ones at your grocery store, but they are, in fact, very different. They have measurably more nutrients. They have not been bred for tough skins to allow cross-country transport. They are fresh and they were picked already ripe. They are not covered in harmful chemicals. They were planted and raised by someone in your own community. They are delicious!! They are, indeed, worth the cost.
Fifth - Talk to the vendors and try something new.
At the farmer's market you have the opportunity to talk to the people who raised your food. You can ask them any questions you have. You can thank them for taking the effort to keep this food system alive. Then you can pick up an unfamiliar vegetable and ask them what it's called and how to cook it. You won't get that at the grocery store.
As you can tell, I love the farmer's market!