Farmers markets are a thrill. They offer the freshest locally grown produce, incomparable food transparency, and the opportunity to support small businesses in the community. What could be better than that?
Luckily, the number of farmers markets in the United States continues to grow. In 1994, there were just under 2,000 markets to choose from. Today, according to the Farmers Market Coalition, there are more than 8,600 farmers markets in the U.S. These markets are all registered in the National Farmers Market Directory, which is a handy tool to locate a market near you. The directory allows users to search by zip code and offers valuable information about each of the markets, including the number of vendors and what type of goods you can expect to find there. Which brings us to the first farmers market pro tip:
Do your research.
When visiting a market for the first time, it’s a good idea to check and see what types of vendors you can expect to find there. This is especially helpful if you’re hoping to do the bulk of your grocery shopping at the market. Look for “producer-only” markets, which means the farmers are selling food grown on their own farms and never produce they purchased wholesale somewhere else. In addition to researching the vendors, you may also want to look up what’s in season. A little background research gives you an idea of what you might find and how you might cook with it at home. When you know what to look for, you won’t miss out on the freshest produce at the peak of its season.
Come prepared to buy.
Even though technologies like Square and Venmo have made it easier for vendors to accept payment digitally, cash is still the way to go. More specifically, bring small denominations of cash. Vendors might not always have exact change for large bills, and they will appreciate receiving small bills to make change for other customers down the line. Most importantly, having cash ready makes the transaction move quickly, which is especially dire during the busiest market hours. Of course, in the spirit of shopping sustainably, you should also bring your own reusable grocery bags to carry your haul.
A farmers market is more than a place to score super fresh produce, it’s an opportunity to learn about your food. For example, you may want to ask what growing practices the farmer uses. Not all farmers are USDA organic certified, but that doesn’t mean their produce is of a lesser quality. Obtaining the USDA certification is expensive, requires a lot of paperwork, and farmers who gross less than $5000 a year don’t usually go through this process. Even if a vendor does not have the USDA organic seal, they may still adhere to sustainable growing practices. In order to find out, all you have to do is ask. Asking questions like these makes the food even more valuable because you know exactly how, when, and where it was grown. You won’t find transparency like this at a supermarket.