There is absolutely nothing I love more than to visit a farmer's market for the freshest local produce, herbs, flowers, plants...even meats, seafood, cheeses and chocolates (because we can't forget about dessert). If you've never heard of a farmer's market (don't be ashamed) or have never shopped at one, have no fear. I'm going to help make your process an easy and enjoyable one.
What's a farmer's market, and why is it beneficial?
A farmer's market is an assembly of vendor tents from nearby farms and small companies that sell fresh fruit, vegetables, honey, truffles, and much, much more. Usually, farmer's markets are outdoors and are most popular in the fall, spring and summer months.
They're beneficial because the products are fresh, locally-grown and almost always free of pesticides. You can sometimes also save money, because the produce comes straight from the farmers.
Where can I find a farmer's market?
The easiest way to locate a farmer's market near you is to use the search tool provided by LocalHarvest.org. You can type in your zip code to see exactly which areas now offer farmer's markets.
What do I actually do at a farmer's market?
Shop, of course! And take in the sights and scents of fresh products--food products, body products and even art created by local vendors. Here are a few tips on how to shop at your local farmer's market:
1. Observe the produce not only with your eyes, but with your hands. You should be able to pick up fruit such as apples and peaches to smell them and make sure they're perfect to buy. A piece of fruit that is too soft is too ripe, and a piece of fruit that's too hard needs time before you can eat it. You don't want any dents, scrapings or punctures in your fruit--or vegetables. Make sure all the produce you buy looks and smells pleasant to you. Pick up each item and hold it up. Look at it from every angle. Don't just inspect, but cherish the beauty of nature's delicious creations!
2. Pretend you're a journalist. Ask a lot of questions. If you've got a question about how and where the food was grown, just ask. Ask what's in season. Ask about the new and intriguing vegetable you see. Ask for recipes (trust me, they have LOTS of them!). Ask how, when and where to cook the particular product. If you're interested in knowing the story behind the particular farm or company, there will be many people interested to tell you about it. Strike up a conversation, even if it's just small talk! This type of chatting is a great way to get acquainted with your local farmers. Introduce yourself to them. Tell them how much you appreciate their hard work and be sure to visit them again.
3. Take the business cards of the vendors so you can visit them on-site. You can also write down their website or address if they don't offer a business card. If you've liked the product they offer, it's always a good idea to connect with them so you can purchase their goods in the future as well.
4. Taste! Most of the vendors will be excited to offer you a taste of their food items. Have a nibble. Try something you may have never tried before. Test your tastebuds!
5. Bring enough cash. Most farmer's markets aren't equipped to use credit or debit cards. Some do accept them, but don't take chances. Cash is always better.
6. Bring a cart to wheel your items around. This is necessary if you're the kind of person who goes shopping for one item and winds up with twenty items. A cart is never a bad idea. It'll make your shopping experience more enjoyable while roaming the market outside.
7. Wear sensible shoes. Old sneakers are perfect. You will be walking around a lot, so your feet might as well be comfortable.
8. Bring an umbrella. Because the markets are usually outside, you want to be prepared in case of a shower.
9. Have a cooler filled with ice, ready in your car. This is especially important if you are shopping at a farmer's market that sells meat, fish or highly perishable items of any kind. If you've driven from the city to a small summer farmer's market in the country, there's only a slim chance your smoked gouda will be fresh by the time you get home. The cooler is a must.
10. Relish every moment! This is not the same thing as shopping in a cold, crowded grocery store where people are constantly ramming into one another with their shopping carts. This is an entirely different experience that you'll want to remember--and do more often!
Once you start shopping at farmer's markets, you will not only notice the difference in the taste of your food, but also your mood! There's nothing like a sunny farmer's market filled with people who are passionate about the crops they grow and the products they make by hand. So, take advantage of the delicious goodies they have to offer.