Farmers markets certainly aren’t anything new, but they have seen a major renaissance over the last several years, with literally thousands popping up all over the country, particularly in urban areas.
That’s great news for folks who love fresh produce and supporting local — or at least local-ish — businesses and farmers. (Don’t know where your nearest market is? The USDA has a handy farmers market locator.) The typical products available usually were grown within just a couple of hours of your market’s opening and harvested within the last 48 hours, as opposed to things you buy at the grocery store, which are frequently shipped across the country for days on end.
That’s great for the environment, but is shopping at a farmers market really a good deal for your budget? Similar to the grocery store, it really all depends on how you shop. Here are nine ways you can make the most of shopping at your local farmers market.
1. Shop Early
It’s a good idea at the typical grocery store, but it’s imperative at the farmers market if you want the very best selection, so grab your coffee and get yourself to the market within 30 minutes of opening to ensure you get the day’s best, especially when it comes to your local fish monger, if you have one.
2. Compare Prices
Just because supplies are limited doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out a few vendors before making your purchase. Quality and price can vary dramatically from stall to stall, so taking a stroll through the market can pay off. Likewise, some markets tend to be more expensive than others, so if you have several in your area, you may want to check out which has the best offerings at the best prices.
3. Take Cash …
Most vendors don’t accept credit cards, so you’re going to need to grab a bunch of cash before you head out.
4. … And Your Own Bags
Yes, farmers market vendors do typically have bags available, but they appreciate it if you have your own, as it helps keep their costs down (which, in turn, keeps yours down as well).
5. Avoid the Ready-to-Eat Items
Yes, those cinnamon buns look delicious, and, yes, that coffee smells amazing, but is the price worth it? A lot of these items are sold at a considerable markup. So, while a splurge every now and then may be fine, making that $4 coffee and $5 bun a weekly routine can obviously add up quickly.
6. Consider the Proteins
Most meats, eggs and cheeses you’ll find at farmers markets are offered by small farms that tend to treat their animals humanely, use organic, vegetarian feeds and no hormones. They also tend to carry a pretty hefty price tag because they aren’t mass producing these items and have to cover their costs. If your household tends to eat a lot of protein, you may want to consider talking to the farmer about buying in bulk — like a side of beef — at a considerable savings. (Want to save even more? Here are a butcher’s secrets to saving money on meat.)
7. Get to Know the Vendors
Shopping at your farmers market is a lot like living in a small town. If you go regularly and get to know the farmers, those relationships can pay off. They’ll point you to the items they’re particularly proud of that week or that they know you’re going to like. They may even slide you a few freebies now and then.
8. Ask for Recipes & Preparation Ideas
These folks know their products and probably eat them regularly themselves, so don’t hesitate to ask for their favorite preparation or recipe. They’ll probably be excited to talk about it if they aren’t overly busy, which is another good reason to show up early.
9. Visit the Farm
If there’s a vendor you’re particularly fond of, why not head to their farm some time during the week to see their operations up close? A family trip to a working farm can be an amazing experience, especially for kids. It’s a great way to give them an appreciation of where their food comes from and why being a good steward of the land is important. You may also be able to pick up some of the farmer’s products at an even better price.