It’s National Farmers’ Market Week! If you have yet to get to your local market, this is the week is as good as any to just do it. In honor of this celebration of local food, here are my eight tips for how to make the most of your local farmers’ market.
1. Learn what’s in season. Local corn in May in Connecticut? Not so much. When you know what’s in season in your area, you can then buy it when it’s at peak flavor. Buying something at its peak means it’s going to taste so much better. It’s also important to learn what actually grows in your area. Connecticut bananas? Sorry, but no. You can download a handy chart from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. If you live elsewhere or want other sources, just check out my Resources page.
2. Go early or go late. Shopping early means a better chance of snagging the best food and to avoiding missing out on items that tend to go fast. But, if you’re looking for really good deals, go late. Many times vendors are a little more likely to reduce their prices near closing time to save them from having to pack up a lot of produce and possibly even throw it away.
3. Bring your own bag. Not only are plastic bags not very eco-friendly, I also think that carrying them is a pain. I find it much easier to cart around my spoils in a sturdy cloth or reusable bag. You could even bring a backpack or a basket to carry everything home.
4. Cash is king. Yes, thanks to devices like Square, it’s becoming a lot more common for vendors to accept debit or credit cards. However, it’s always a good idea to just bring cash. Making your purchases using exact cash (or close enough to it) will save time and make things a lot easier for the vendor. Bring more money than you think you’ll need, and especially small bills and change.
5. Shop around. Walk the entire market to check prices and see which vendor has what that week. One vendor might have an overrun on zucchini, and are selling it cheap that week. Another vendor may be up to their eyes in cherry tomatoes and is offering the best price so they sell them fast. At my regular market, I depend on different vendors for different things.
6. Ask questions. Talk to the farmers. You can find out about their growing practices. If you see an ingredient you aren’t familiar with, ask them about it. They’ll tell you all about it and are more than happy to give you ideas for how to prepare it.
7. Try something new. Experiment! Don’t be afraid of trying an unfamiliar ingredient or a new variety of something you already like. Try the purple cauliflower. Buy that funny shaped squash. You just might find something you love and can’t imagine having overlooked it for so long.
8. Match seasonal finds to recipes. With seasonal eating, you can’t always start with a recipe and seek out the ingredients. You need to be a little more flexible. Or, if you do have a recipe in mind, keep in mind substitutions. Personally, I shop for whatever looks good that week and then figure out what to do with it all.