Methods: Five Tips for the Farmers Market

Over the past two years, I’ve done more and more of my grocery shopping outside the conventional grocery store. (If you’re unfamiliar with my particular distaste for said places, this post might give you some insight.) At any rate, one of the places I love to do my hunting and gathering is at our local farmers market. It is literally three blocks from our apartment. I’ve really fallen in love with my Saturday morning ritual of strolling/biking down to the booths to do my 45 minutes of low-key shopping, but I remember it was a little intimidating at first. So, I'm sharing five tips I've learned that make it simple and easy for me.

At my market, most vendors do not take a card, so I always carry cash. I’ve learned about how much I need, dependent on what's in season and on my list. I’ll hit the ATM on the way, then start at the booth where I spend the most to break my bills. I find 5's and 10's are the best bills to have on hand.

Neither! Many vendors will have bags available for you, but I’ve found that plastic bags end up squishing everything together, and paper bags don’t have handles. The easiest method is to bring my own, and I literally only need one. I HIGHLY recommend a flat-bottom bag like the one pictured. It’s a life-saver when it comes to stacking items, and I almost always place my eggs at the bottom. Works like a charm and keeps everything evenly distributed for the walk home.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be tempted to rush and buy as much as you can from as few vendors as possible. Fight the urge! With a simple question or two, I’ve learned what each of my favorite vendors is truly passionate about, and it makes all the difference in the quality of their particular "passion product." I find it so rewarding to buy only one or two items—that the vendor takes particular pride in—rather than rush to get as much as possible from a few people. To find out what to buy, I like to ask: “What’s good today?” or “What are you most excited to offer this week?” or “What’s your favorite thing to grow?” People are usually super excited to share! (They may also let you in on what’s just been planted or is about to be harvested, so you have something to look forward to in the coming weeks!)

Our market is on Saturdays. I used to grocery shop at the conventional grocery store/co-op on Fridays, but now I know to wait until I’ve been to the market. That way I can buy as much as possible locally, and then supplement at the other stores on Monday.

All three if you’re like me! Here’s the deal. Just because it is being sold at the market does not mean it is automatically all three of these things. There are plenty of vendors who spray their crops. There are plenty of artisans selling homemade soap and jewelry made with items sourced at Wal-Mart. And there's nothing wrong with that! For me, I look for organic first, local second, and artisan third. If the products are not clearly marked, I ask the vendor about chemical use and sourcing. It’s important to me, so I ask. If you could care less, no worries! 

Hope those tips help if you are beginning your farmers market routine. For those of us who don’t love to grocery shop, the market can be such a pleasant alternative. If it seems overwhelming at first, don't worry. Ask vendors or others shoppers for help or advice. People are always stopping me to ask where I got this or that while I’m shopping, and I do the same. The communal aspect can be the most fun part. If you have any other tips, please leave a comment to share with the rest of us. Happy shopping!