Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips

What better way to spend part of your Saturday or Sunday (or Mon-Fri) than paying a visit to your local farmer’s market? Going to the market is a mix of culture, community and of course, free tastings. One of the huge advantages to shopping at the farmer’s market is being able to ask the farmer questions about the food that he or she is selling. Another major benefit is knowing that the food you are about to buy is fresh, humane, and locally grown (as opposed to being shipped 1,800 miles). These are important things for our environment, and they are important for our farmers and our local economy.

Listed below are some tips to help you make the most out of the food you buy and the experience you enjoy, (they are not in any particular order). If you have any more to add, please let us know.

  • When was this picked?- Usually farmers pick their produce the day before or the morning of the farmer’s market. Knowing when it was picked will give you an idea of how ripe it is. Generally speaking, farmers want to harvest produce when it’s perfectly ripe, so you shouldn’t have to wait very long before you can eat it. It’s not a bad idea to ask. Also here is a guide on how to choose perfectly ripe fruits and veggies.
  • Where’s the farm?- This is another important question to ask. Our assumption is that all the food at the farmers market was grown locally. This is not always the case. If the food was trucked in from hundreds of miles away, then shopping at the farmers market will be no better than shopping at the supermarket.
  • Organic- Not all the foods at the farmers market are organic. The best practice is to ask. Many times, local farm representatives will tell you that their food is “organic,” despite the fact that they do not carry a “certified organic” label. The reason behind this is that for some small farms these certifications cost a lot of money that can prove financially prohibitive. In general I trust the farmers at the market, and in most cases, I think their hearts and practices are in the right place. If they say their produce is organic, I believe them. However, even if the food is not organic and was grown conventionally (using pesticides and fertilizers) and locally, this is still a good thing and definitely the next best choice in environmentally friendly agriculture. You may just want to subtly ask your farmer if they have plans to go organic in the future.
  • Sustainable- If you’re interested, you can ask your farmer if they perform crop rotations and employ bio-diversity on their farm. These practices usually help the farm become a closed loop where the plants, animals and soil all benefit from each other.
  • Are those free range eggs- There is a stand at our farmers market that sells eggs. If yours has one also, it may not be a bad idea to ask all of the above plus whether the chickens are allowed to roam about freely. I noticed the last time we were at the market the egg stand put up a sign that listed all of these answers, so they must get these questions frequently.
  • Is it in season- Because most food at the farmers market is grown locally, generally it’s in season. Just in case you are curious, here is a link to check what’s in season in your area.
  • Recipes and Storage- Who better to ask how to prepare and store the food than the person that grew it? Farmers usually enjoy the produce they grow and have some good tips and tricks on cooking it and making it keep for awhile. Who knows, you may even walk away with an old family recipe.
  • Create a list, and get those items first- Sometimes the excitement of the farmers market can send us into a buying frenzy…I think cheap, fresh food has that effect. However, stick to the list. If you’ve got your meals planned out for the week, get those necessary ingredients first. After that, you can check out some other treats. The key is not to buy so much food that it spoils before you can eat it. Since most of the produce is ripe when you buy it, it’s shelf life is probably only a few days.
  • Give the kids a couple bucks- Let them choose and purchase some fruits and veggies on their own. You never know, they may be more inclined to actually eat the healthy items that they picked it out and paid for.
  • Bring your own bags- Globally, we use 1 million plastic bags per minute. They fill up our landfills, open spaces and oceans. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this, please use reusable bags to help reduce this number.

Overall, these tips should help you make an educated decision on the food you are about to buy. You’ll probably only need to ask them once, as you’ll purchase from the same farmers from week-to-week. After awhile, you will get to know them and they will usually take special care of you in pointing out the best produce and give you more tips and suggestions.

Happy shopping!

Author Information -  During his spare time Eric writes for and maintains For his day job he works for an electronics company in San Diego, CA. Eric has been a vegetarian for about 10 years and believes that going 'green' and reducing meat consumption go hand-in-hand.

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Comment by Jessica SchesslerNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2007-06-26 05:28:44

Oh! I just wanted to share something else with you guys. I’m interning for a non-profit, Sustainable Harvest International… they work with farmers in Central America to teach them sustainable, organic farming techniques to stop slash and burn, which helps save the rain forests. (And helps the farmers out economically!) Anyway, they’re being featured on the lids of Stonyfield Yogurt, and you can get a free cup just by voting! You can get other free stuff too… like chocolate, yum!

So.. if you want to learn more…
Or you can vote here…

Thanks :D

Comment by ericNo Gravatar
2007-06-26 10:04:39

What an awesome organization! How long have you been interning with them?


P.S. I am totally getting the caribiner.

Comment by ericNo Gravatar
2007-06-26 10:05:17

P.P.S. Thanks for posting the link.

Comment by Jessica SchesslerNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2007-06-26 10:10:37

The caribiner is pretty cool, but I’m partial to chocolate myself! :)

I’m interning with them just for the summer, I’m a college student, so, back to class in the fall for me! I just think it’s really cool how everything they do fits together… like instead of just trying to plant trees to fix the problem, they go to the source and teach the farmers new ways of growing organically. Slash and burn doesn’t work well in the long run! So, they help out not only the environment, but the farmers and their families too… and the communities! Lots of times they end up growing enough extra crops to sell them locally. :)

And, you’re welcome for the link, glad you’re excited!

Comment by Jessica SchesslerNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2007-06-26 10:12:21

Oh! And do us a favor and don’t forget to mention a vote for SHI When you mail in your clean lids. :D

Comment by ericNo Gravatar
2007-06-26 10:16:18


Comment by ericNo Gravatar
2007-06-26 10:28:56

This is true…we can’t just go in there and ask them to hug trees and subsist with no food or money. Education and demonstrating that there are alternatives is the key to successfully implementing a program like this. These folks still need to eat and survive….and as much as rich Americans want to “save the rainforest” we need to understand that people need to live in these areas. Showing them a sustainable way to do it will be the rainforest’s and the people’s salvation.

Keep up the good work! We look forward to hearing from you on how things are going.

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