Having started momme meals at a local farmer’s market, I have a great appreciation for the time and talent it takes to bring fresh produce, cheeses and meats to market week after week. There is no question, it's a labor of love.
While each local market combines a different group of artisans and offerings, there are some simple tips anyone can use to maximize their shopping experience.
Walk first. Shop second: Even if you’re an avid farmer’s market shopper returning week after week to the same market, it’s always best to walk around and get a lay of the land before making a purchase. Farmers will often introduce new items or have a new variety of (fill in the blank), so it’s good to see who has what, and what looks and tastes best before buying.
Make a list and then make it again: Going to the market with a list is a good idea. No one ever wants to leave without that one critical ingredient. That said, what you need and what is being offered may not always match up. Markets present a great opportunity to buy creatively. Beets might not be on your list but if they are the most incredible looking beets you have ever laid eyes on – BUY THEM. When you’re doing your initial market walk though, make some mental notes of what looks too delicious to pass up and start looking to see what other items you may need to prepare it. If you’re not sure how to make it, ask the farmer – they typically have great ideas and recipes to share. Adjust your list accordingly and shop on.
Taste (but be cautious): Don’t be a passive farmer’s market shopper. Taste samples. Ask for a sample if one is not readily available. Buy produce that is popping with flavor.
While most farmers are very careful about how they present their samples, it’s always best to look before you grab from the community tray. If the samples have been sitting out for an extended period of time or if there is no way to taste something without touching other samples, ask the farmer to cut you a fresh one. Most will gladly do so. If you’re pregnant or nursing, stay away from cut samples of tomatoes and melons. Without refrigeration these items have a higher risk of carrying food borne pathogens.
Ask questions: The brilliance of a farmer’s market is that you get the chance to speak directly with the individuals who grow your food. Nowhere else do you have this amazing opportunity. Take full advantage of it and get to know your farmer and their farming practices. Ask them what items on their stand they would recommend purchasing and their favorite way to prepare it. The more you ask, the more you know. The more you know, the better choices you will make. As an added bonus, the more your local farmer knows you, the more likely they are to set aside top picks and work with you on pricing. Making friends certainly has its perks.
Bring your kids: Farmer’s markets are an excellent family-friendly environment. Take your kids out for some Vitamin D and get them involved in the shopping process. Have them engage with the farmers, let them select some of the fruits and veggies you will be cooking later in the week. When kids get to choose, they are more likely to eat it later. Besides, it’s a great way to share information about farming and food that will hopefully help them make healthier food choices now and in the future.
Side note: Make going to the farmer's market part of your weekly schedule. Supporting sustainable local agriculture is an incredible investment that can benefit your health, your local community, and the environment. We call that a win-win-win.