Farmers markets have become more commonplace in neighborhoods around the country, and with this increase in popularity there is an increase in vendors and consumer choice.
When it comes to buying produce, start small — buy salad ingredients to have at dinner each night and fruit for meals or snacks. Purchase vegetables you know how to prepare. Once you gain confidence, add new items. Search for staples you normally buy at the supermarket, such as eggs, flour, bread, coffee, fish, nuts, seeds, honey and even soap.
Since items at a farmers market change often, bring a general shopping list rather than a specific one for the whole week — ingredients for salads and produce for side dishes that go well with planned dinners of fish, chicken or meat entrées. To prevent rotting fruit in the fridge, estimate how many pieces of fruit you'll need for your lunches or snacks for the week.
Here are a few ideas on maximizing your trip and becoming a savvy farmers market shopper.
- Don't be shy. The people selling products want to answer your questions. So, go ahead, ask them what sunchokes are.
- Learn the lingo. Not all farmers can afford the organic certification, so ask what the difference between "greenhouse grown" and "grown or raised without hormones."
- Do your homework. Find a market that's in a convenient location and has hours that fit your schedule so you can easily add a shopping trip into your weekly routine. Visit www.localharvest.org for markets in your area.
- Time your outing. If you can only go on weekends, get there early. Otherwise, go on a weekday during the middle of the day. The less traffic in the market, the more opportunities you'll have to get the best products and chat with vendors. If you're shopping on a budget, going at the end of the market day will usually enable you to get some great deals and negotiate prices with the vendors.
- Bring cash and reusable bags. Small bills will make transactions easy, and you'll need a sturdy, eco-friendly bag to carry your purchases home.
- Become a gourmet. Ask the vendors for cooking suggestions; sometimes they provide recipes. Discover new recipe ideas, plus tips on selecting and storing fruits and vegetables.
- Be flexible. Accept that produce will not look perfect. But, it has been grown locally and picked recently, which means it's packed with flavor and nutrients.
Information provided by Julie Negrin, MS, CN, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Hunger and Environmental Nutrition dietetic practice group.