How to Shop Like a Pro at the Farmers’ Market

CC BY 2.0. Bud Ellison

Whether you're a market newbie or an old pro, these tips for making the most of your experience are always good to keep in mind.

Farmers’ markets are at their prime right now, overflowing with fruits and vegetables that have been harvested at their peak. When it comes to seeking the freshest, sweetest flavors and stocking up for canning or freezing, now is the time to do it.

1. Go early in the morning

The market is less busy first thing in the morning, before the strollers, dogs, and hordes of people appear. The sooner you get there, the more selection you’ll have and it’s likely to be more of a pleasant experience, rather than overwhelming and competitive.

2. Take a set amount of cash

Going to the farmers’ market can be an economical way to shop, but it’s also easy to overspend if you’re not careful. Know your budget and stick to it by taking limited cash.

3. Avoid the fancy artisanal items

As lovely as they are, it’s the unique artisanal items that add up and make a visit to the farmers’ market much more expensive than it should be. So unless you need these items and have room in your budget, keep away from the handmade soaps, the infused olive oils, the gourmet cheeses and charcuterie, and stick with the basics.

4. Don’t overdo it if you plan to eat fresh

There’s a natural tendency to overbuy when surrounded by such glorious food at the farmers’ market. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach, as they say, and buy a reasonable amount to feed the hungry mouths at home, so as to avoid wasted food. Unless, of course, you’re buying in bulk, in which case...

5. Get it while you can

Stock up if you intend to do some canning or freezing. Now is the time to do it, when produce is at its peak. You might be able to strike a deal with farmers at the end of the day for anything that hasn’t sold, or ask in advance for them to bring a bushel of seconds the following week.

6. Take reusables

Please don’t undermine the benefits of shopping at the farmers’ market by returning home with multiple non-recyclable plastic bags! Take reusable produce bags (I use these cotton mesh ones from Life Without Plastic) and a bigger bag or box in which to carry everything. (Here’s a beautiful woven ‘market basket’ from Ten Thousand Villages.)

7. Don't stick to a list

The beauty of shopping at the farmers' market is the way in which seasonal harvests shape your purchases. Allow yourself to go with what's fresh, what's the best deal, what the farmer recommends, or what piques your curiosity. Try new vegetables you've never heard of and discover new favorites.