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How to Shop at a Farmer's Market

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Red Ripe Tomatoes

Fresh Tomatoes From the Garden

Linda Larsen
Summer and early fall are prime time for farmer's markets. If you have never visited a farmer's market, now is the time! According to the National Farmer's Market Directory, there are close to 3,000 farmer's markets in the United States. And in Europe and around the world, outdoor farmer's markets are famous for their variety and quality of produce and handmade products.

I can spend hours browsing through markets, and here are some tips to help you get the most out of the market in your neighborhood.

Hints and Tips for Farmer's Markets Shopping

  • Take Your Time
    Have fun browsing! I like to make a slow loop around the market, making note of stands of special interest, before I begin buying. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't buy a fresh filled croissant or some raspberries to munch on as I stroll around!
  • Bring Cash
    Cash is the easiest currency. However, did you know that many farmer's markets in the United States participate in a WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Farmers Market Nutrition Program? If your family qualifies, you can receive coupons good at farmer's markets that help supplement your meals. And local farmers benefit too. That's definitely a win-win situation.
  • Bring Containers and Shopping Bags
    Although some farmer's market vendors have bags and boxes, it's easiest if you bring your own reusable bags with handles. You are contributing to the most basic recycling and environmental causes by using cloth and string bags, besides buying local, most likely organically grown produce.
  • Ask Questions
    Make sure to ask questions of the vendors when you see unfamiliar produce. I learned about edamame, or fresh soybeans, last year at the St. Paul's farmers market and they have become a favorite addition to my meals in summertime. Vendors and farmers love to share their knowledge and can even give you recipes and cooking tips.
  • Dress Comfortably
    Wear walking shoes and dress appropriately for the weather. Most farmer's markets are open rain or shine, so be prepared with sunscreen and collapsible umbrellas; and watch the weather! If you take your children, make sure you have supplies, a stroller, and drinks for them. Involve them in the process too, and they will become more interested in fresh produce and meal preparation.
  • Go Early
    There's nothing better than strolling through a fragrant and colorful farmer's market early on a late summer morning. The sights, smells, and sounds are incredibly beautiful. You'll find the best selection if you show up early too.
  • Go Late
    Just before closing time, you'll find some of the best deals, because vendors don't want to take their wares back home. But remember that the selection will be limited at this time, and some vendors may be sold out.
  • Bring Coolers
    Make sure to have coolers with ice packs in your car, or take the produce straight home to keep it fresh and at its peak.
  • Experiment!
    Don't be afraid to try something new. Have fun! You'll probably discover a few favorite fruit, vegetable, plant, flower, bread or cheese that will make your summer even richer and sweeter.

Shopping at a farmer's market or open air market means that you will get the best, freshest produce available, while at the same time you are supporting small local farmers. You can find produce that is too delicate to ship, heirloom varieties of produce, and learn something new too. Often the vendors farm organically, and the farmer's market is their primary source of income. Cherish the community and it will thrive!

Here's a United States Farmer's Market Map to get you started. And here's a 25 of the world's best farmers markets. Have fun!

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