If you are anything like me, the words “Farmers’ Market” fills your mind with images of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, fresh meat recently butchered by hand, and various garden and kitchen sundries waiting for discovery. Fresh air filled with scents of home-cooking flutters your (recycled) bags full of homegrown goodness, and you return home with recipe ideas to try and perhaps a new fruit or vegetable to explore.
Alas, that all Farmers’ markets were such troves of treasure. I recently stopped by a Farmers’ market that offered little more than 8 stands, two with fruits and vegetables, and the rest were prepackaged foods, sugar-laden desserts, and a knife-sharpening kiosk. I came away less than thrilled. What makes a Farmers’ market great? What sets them apart?
Some Farmers’ markets focus more on price than others. Some offer a large array of vendors who have foods that might be very similar (if not the same) as the ones in your grocery store. Other markets include a lot of local, organic vendors. Some markets include crafters and antique sellers, giving them more of a flea market feel. The best way to tell the difference is to visit and take a walk around. Not sure where the local Farmers’ markets are in your area? Check out Local Harvest and Farmersmarket.com for local listings, or stop by a health food store near you.
There’s no “right” kind of Farmers’ market, but if you are searching for locally grown, sustainably harvested foods, grass-fed and pastured protein sources, and perhaps a good deal as well, here are a few tips to help you find the right stuff.
Look for quality, but watch the price. As much as I love homegrown vegetables, I also have a budget to mind. So when you arrive at the market, tour the vendors and note what they have available. Take a look at their price lists. Did they come in from quite a distance? You might see their transportation costs play out in their prices. And if you plan to stock up, you can ask if they’ll offer a discount. Many are happy to offer a small discount for someone purchasing in bulk.
Pay attention to time. If you go to a Farmers’ market later in the day, about an hour from closing time, you tend to get better deals. The vendors mark down their bounty so they can pack less to take home. But it also means that you are left with what everyone else didn’t want. For example, if you have your heart set on sweet corn or a fresh head of endive, you probably should arrive at the start of the market day to get the best pick.
Farmers’ markets are a wonderful way to connect with nature and support local businesses, not to mention an enjoyable way to spend your morning, whether you go alone or with a friend. Check out what’s in your area, and let us know how you make out!