Do you love going to your local farmers market? I sure do! Its is a great place to snag some of the ripest and juiciest produce of the season. Ive been shopping the local farmers markets here in Maryland for years, and Ive learned a few things along the way.
Our local Annapolis farmers market opens for the season this weekend and I cant wait! In honor of this exciting news, today Im going to share with you my Top 10 Farmers Market Tips. An insiders-guide of sorts, these 10 tips will help you make the most of your farmers market shopping experience.
The Farmers Market Phenomenon
Farmers markets are growing in popularity, and reaching all corners of the country. In fact, according to a 2014 survey by the USDA there are now 8,268 farmers markets in the US– a number thats on the rise annually! Driving this growth is the increasingly health-conscious consumer that wants produce straight from the farm fields. More and more people are turning to locally-sourced, organic, and seasonal produce to feed their families, and the farmers market is the perfect place to bring the farm to table practice to reality.
Depending on where you live, you may even find varieties of fruits and vegetables that mainstream grocery stores dont carry. Ever tried a white plum? Or a purple tomato? I have, and I found them all at my local farmers market! This is a great way to enjoy fresh fruits and veggies at their peak growing season, when theyre packed full of flavor and dense with nutrients. So, are you ready to run to your local farmers market and score the best treasures of the season? Great! Check out these 10 tips and youll be ready to rock the farmers market!
My Maryland Market Favorites
If youre a Marylander (or happen to be passing through any time soon), here are some of my favorite markets, vendors, and products to try!
Cumberstone Ice Pops gourmet ice pops handcrafted in Harwood, Maryland
Cottingham Farm veggies fresh from the farm, all organic and from Easton, Maryland
FireFly Farms rich and creamy goat cheese from Western Maryland
Great Frogs Winery local Annapolis wine need I say more?!
Chapels Country Creamery delicious, creative cheeses from the Eastern Shore of Maryland
Cedar Run Farm homegrown meats straight from the farm in Sudlersville
Lockbriar Farms the freshest, juiciest berries around picked from Marylands Eastern Shore
Top 10 Farmers Market Tips
1. Get there early- Get up with the sun and be one of the first people at the farmers market. The freshest produce and the best deals will be snatched up first, so give yourself an advantage by arriving early. Cant function that early without caffeine? Dont worry, many farmers markets are adding coffee vendors, so grab a cup of locally brewed joe and get to shopping!
2. Scope out the scene- Dont be tempted to buy everything at the first vendor you come across. If its a large market there will be many vendors selling similar items. Check them all out before making a purchase. See who offers the freshest looking items, who has the best prices, and whos local and organic. Once you make a lap around the market you will be better able to make informed purchases and get the items you need.
3. Get social- Chat with the vendors and get to know them! Dont be afraid to ask questions and learn about how they operate their farms. Ask if they use pesticides/herbicides, if they will be growing any other items throughout the season, where they are located, and if they participate in any other farmers markets. You might be surprised what you can learn from chatting with the farmers! Once I struck up a conversation with a vendor at the Baltimore Farmers Market and found out that he is the next door neighbor to the farm we bought pork chops from in Sudlersvile, MD. Its a surprisingly small world!
4. Bring small bills and pocket change- Most items at the farmers market will only cost a few dollars. Make it easy on the vendors (and on yourself) and bring small bills and some pocket change. Dont miss out on the best box of strawberries just because the vendor couldnt make change from your $100 bill. I usually spend about $20-$30 at the market and walk away with a weeks worth of fresh produce. Your dollar goes a lot further when yourre buying directly from the source!
5. Try something new- Its ok to go to the farmers market armed with a shopping list, but keep your options open. You never know what great new items you might find if youre willing to take a chance. Ive found some amazing tomato varieties and some unusual mushrooms at markets in the past, things that I would never find in the grocery store.
6. If you cant get there early, get there late- Thats right, if you cant be an early bird, be a last minute deal snatcher! At the end of the market, vendors want to unload their remaining merchandise and there are often discounts to be had. Theres no guarantee that the items you want will still be available, but its worth making a last minute walk through the market before closing time to see what deals you can snag.
7. Eat seasonally- The best thing about going to the farmers market is getting to sample local produce at the very peak of its growing season. Think peaches so ripe they drip down your chin, tomatoes packed full of sun-ripened flavor, and peppery arugula so light and crisp you can almost taste the field it came from. When you eat whats in season, you get the opportunity to taste fruits and veggies when they are at their very best.
8. Bring your kids- The farmers market is the one place I enjoy bringing my kids along to shop with me. Its important that we know where our food comes from, and I think this lesson starts in childhood. Theres no better way to teach your kids about the importance of agriculture, sustainability, and organic farming practices than to experience it first hand. Its also a great opportunity to reinforce healthy eating habits with you kids. Letting them sample a fresh picked plum might sway them to choose fruit the next time they reach for a snack.
9. Be prepared with ice packs- Its a good idea to always bring along a few ice packs, you never know what youll end up buying. Many farmers markets are now offering a nice selection of proteins- free range chicken, grass fed beef, and even seafood (hello lobster tails)! As long as you can keep things cool on the ride home youll be able to shop without hesitation.
10. Bring a bag and a basket- It might be a lot to carry, but having a bag and a basket will ensure that your items will stay fresh and free of bruises. The bag is great for heavy, bulky items such as meat or spaghetti squash- things that can handle being tossed around a little bit. The basket is perfect for more delicate items that cant be stacked or squished like, peaches, tomatoes, and herbs. (If you followed tip #8 and brought your kiddo along, let them carry the basket!)
11. Bonus Tip- Dont buy your 6 year old a giant peacock feather from the farmers market. They will tickle you. Incessantly. In public. Just dont do it