As the number of farmers markets keeps rising, it’s easier and easier to find one in your town. In fact, according to the Agriculture Department, the country has added more than 3,000 markets since 2005. And where once markets were only open during prime growing seasons, many stay open year round, offering produce grown indoors or kept fresh in storage units.
With rows of vendors and unfamiliar produce, the farmers market can seem overwhelming at first. But you’ll soon relish time spent there: finding new produce, chatting with farmers and supporting your community.
Farmers markets are constantly offering new items, too, as you’ll notice that a trip in May looks vastly different than a visit in November, which isn’t always true at grocery stores. In the Northeast, for example, you’ll find strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb in the spring and just before Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, cauliflower and acorn squash will fill the market.
The farmers market can be an enjoyable shopping experience if you can keep a few things in mind. Get the most out of your trip with these five tips.
Tip 1: Browse First
The farmers market will easily seduce you into buying too much food if you pile every shiny apple into your tote bag. Take a stroll around, check out the vendors, make mental notes of prices and get a feel for what looks good. Also, think about what’s in season now: apples may be for sale, but ask if they’ve just been picked or if they’ve been sitting in cold storage for a few months.
Tip 2: Enjoy Samples
One of the best reasons to shop at the farmers market is the ability to try foods before buying. Head to a stand with four different varieties of peaches and pretend you’re Goldilocks: picking the most perfect level of sweetness just for you.
Tip 3: Make Friends
Can’t figure out which cherry is right for your grandmother’s pie? You’re probably standing face to face with someone who can offer tips. Not only do most farmers know exactly how they grew their cherries, but they can also tell you which varieties are sour and which ones hold up to heat, setting you up for baking success.
Tip 4: Bring Supplies
Of course you’ll bring your tote, but there a few other ways to get your food home in the best condition. Bring plastic containers to safely store loose berries and tender leafy greens. Save an old egg carton to fill up on your next dozen, as sometimes you can choose your own eggs. And if you’re traveling far, keep a cooler in the car to transport items that need to stay chilled, such as frozen meats.
Tip 5: Be Brave
Find a new cheese, a new variety of basil or a new breed of tomatoes and buy it. But not all in one trip! Be adventurous, but don’t purchase more than you can eat in the next few days. Because the best part of the market is going again next week.
-Blogger Stefanie Gans author of this article. Check out more her pieces at endlesssimmer.