We all love shopping the farmers market. But, are you getting the most out of your experience and food? Here are 8 tips to help you prepare and get the most out of your food and money.
I believe there are two ways to approach the market. Here is the first one! Plan your weekly menus and place the bulk items in more than one meal and buy accordingly. Now that means if you purchase zucchini to use in kebabs on Sunday afternoon - use the rest of the zucchini in a lasagna on Wednesday. Another example would be, you buy a chicken and roast it on Monday - buy 2 and use the extra meat for chicken salad on Thursday and the carcasses to make stock or soup. The point is to put some thought into using what you will have, so it doesn't end up in the garbage.
The second method is working in reverse. You go to the market, buy, and then write and work everything into your menu when you get home. Either way, because you want to be a spontaneous cook, you need to leave yourself some wiggle room so that if you do see something that inspires you, like fresh berries or sweet corn - you can incorporate it into your menus for the week and use everything that you buy.
#2 Check the website
To execute either method of planning, it's a good idea to know what to expect. The best resource for that is to check the market's website, their Facebook page, and their Instagram feed. They do an excellent job of keeping things up to date because what's available varies so much from week to week and year to year. Remember that produce at the market is not like your grocery store. It is weather dependent.
#3 Buy in bulk - bring a friend?
I like to buy in bulk for canning and freezing. There are a few things that I do every year. I buy tomatoes and can them. I also make them into a basic sauce that I freeze. I blanch and freeze sweetcorn and I usually can pickles and sometimes salsas and jams. I always make and freeze pesto. All of these processes are labor-intensive, especially when done in bulk. So, work with a friend and split the cost, work, and food!
#4 Go early - or go late (or on a different day)
Going early in the day is the best. You'll get the best selection, and the vendors won't have sold out of anything. The biggest reasons for early or late are parking and just navigating through the market. It's harder to do both when the market is in full swing.
When I'm shopping for an event or catering, I am always at the market early, or at the Minneapolis market, I often go on Fridays. The selection is not as vast as it is on the weekends, but it's still quite good, and it's much easier to park.
#5 Bring money (small bills are best); Have it organized
I dropped a $20 bill years ago at a market. I was keeping some in my pockets, some in my bag and I lost some money. Keep your money in one place, and always put it back into the wallet, purse, or whatever you're keeping it in.
Some markets have cash machines, but many don't. Make sure you've got cash on you. While some vendors take credit cards, they do pay a percentage for the service, and it takes time, so unless you're buying a lot - cash is best. $20 bills are good, but denominations above that could present a problem in getting change.
#6 Bring bags - or a small cart
Struggling with too many plastic bags is no fun, and you may not be able to park close enough to go back and forth. My best solution is to keep cloth bags in your car, so you don't have to remember them, they are just there. I also keep a small vertical cart in my car all summer long. It's great because it doesn't get in people's way and it holds a ton of stuff! It is also thermal.
#7 Talk to your farmers
The single best source of information about any particular item at the market is the person who grew or produced it. These are the people that can tell you about how the food was produced. They can tell you when the produce was picked, how to prepare it, how to clean it, and how to store it. They often have nutritional information and information about how long you'll be able to buy the item at the market. My favorite question to ask farmers is how they like to cook whatever I'm buying.
#8 Remember why food is expensive
Shopping at a farmers market often brings out the bargain hunter in all of us. But please remember that good food is expensive to produce, and small producers can't make up profits with volume. Revel in the quality of the food and the experience of buying it. Use these tips to help you plan, buy, and use the food you purchase so you'll know you spent your money well.