My farmer’s market opens this week and I can’t wait! The weather has warmed up, and I have been eagerly anticipating the early morning walks to the church parking lot, to chat with my neighbors and the farmers I haven’t seen since October.
Do you have a favorite local farmers’ market? Check here to find a market near you.
Here’s what to know before you go:
1. Know your seasons. You’ll have an easier time planning your trip and deciding what to buy if you know to expect asparagus and mesclun in May and tomatoes and zucchini in July. Check here to see what’s likely available in your region so you can know before you go.
2. Try new things. Many people are not well-acquainted with spring produce. Swiss chard, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, radishes–I first tried these vegetables because I met them at the farmers’ market. Ask the farmer how to prepare it, google an ingredient, or try a seasonal cookbook like Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets. (I’ve also gotten some excellent recipes from fellow shoppers at my market. If you’re not sure how to prepare kohlrabi, ask the lady buying it how she’s fixing hers!)
3. Don’t try too many new things at once! Don’t set yourself up to be overwhelmed with a fridge full of produce you don’t know what to do with. Try new items one at a time so that experimenting in the kitchen stays fun. (I learned this lesson the hard way!)
4. Buy what you’ll use, and no more. I often get caught up in market-day shopping and overbuy, because everything looks so good! Thankfully, farm-fresh produce lasts longer that what I buy at the grocery–but do try and be realistic about your purchases. Don’t buy more than you can use in the coming week. Besides, you’ll be back next weekend!
5. Bring cash, small change, and shopping bags. Cash may be essential. The small bills, coins and bags will be appreciated.
6. Not everything for sale at the farmers’ market is healthy. This is an easy trap to fall into, so be thoughtful about your purchases. At my market, I can buy top-notch cupcakes and cookies, kettle corn and gelato. The local vendors use high-quality and often organic ingredients, but they are still treats.
7. The farmers’ market is not one-stop shopping (unless you are really lucky!). When my schedule allows, I love to do my weekly grocery shopping after I’ve hit the farmers’ market. That way I can plan my weeks’ meals around the fresh produce I got from the farmers, and get the right meat to go with it.
8. There’s more for sale than just produce. The local farmers and nurseries sell a huge variety of flowers, shrubs, herbs and seedlings in the spring. Last year, we spontaneously bought raspberry bushes. Think about what you’d like to buy before you get there. And think twice before you purchase a project to bring home with you (like ten tomato plants that need planting). Yeah, we’ve done that.
9. My market sells cut flowers. And it’s the best $2.50 I spend each week.
10. Take in the scenery. Farmers’ markets are community events. Many have music, coffee for sale, and picnic tables for stopping to eat. I love to watch the chefs shop, to see what they’re loading on to their dollies and wonder how they’ll be preparing it all. (If what they’re choosing looks really good, I’ll be brave and ask them!)
11. Consider a CSA. But if this is your first year hitting the farmers’ market, I’d recommend you wait till next year. The most common type of CSA works like this: in exchange for a lump-sum payment at the beginning of the growing season, you receive a box of farm-fresh produce every week for the duration of the season. My family has done this for several years: I love developing a strong relationship with the farm, and the abundance and variety of produce. But I miss the choice I get with picking my produce a lá carte. Try a CSA at least once–but don’t do it during a busy season of life, and definitely don’t do it with a newborn! Some of those farm-fresh veggies take a lot of time to prep!
Are you a farmers’ market shopper? Are you thinking about it? What’s your favorite spring farmers’ market find?
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