Last weekend was opening day at my favorite farmer’s market in our area. I have been excited about this for weeks! Even though the day was gloomy, and we had a time limit because I had to work at my husband’s winery tasting room later that day, I was giddy, running around with a big smile on my face. It’s market season! My favorite time of the year. Nothing beats fresh fruits and veggies and supporting local farmers and producers is something I deeply care about—it makes a huge ecological difference! Plus, wandering around on a lazy Saturday morning with friendly faces surrounded by food is the perfect start to my weekend. I can browse ingredients and improvise. It makes everything simpler, more relaxed—an easy complement to the long, lazy summer days ahead.
Since it’s farmer’s market season, I thought I’d share a few things I keep in mind whenever I go. Here’s how to get the most out of your farmer’s market experience:
- Hold off on your grocery store run until after you go to the market. That way, you have a better idea of what you still need from the store. Farmer’s markets are a great place to load up on seasonal fruits and veggies, but often there are other goodies, too! Our market also has local sauerkraut, salsas, cheese, bread, meat, eggs, milk, pastries, and even wine. In the height of produce season, I can usually do all of our shopping at the market. When it’s market season, I only use the grocery store to supplement our food purchases. This early in the season, our farmer’s market had tons of plants for your garden. I’m not quite ready with my garden bed yet, but made note of all the beautiful heirloom tomato and cool pepper varieties.
- Get there early. In this case, the early bird does get the worm. It’s not a grocery store: although local farmers and vendors often have extra food on hand to put out when something sells, they have to bring everything with them to the market—so there is a limited supply. If you get there early, you have the best chance of getting what you want and your pick of what looks fresh. Plus, it hasn’t been sitting there all day—and you don’t have to push past any crowds.
- Go with guidelines, not a list. This goes against my list-making, meal-planning nature. I’m all for planning ahead to make the most of your ingredients—but it’s hard to go in with a clear plan if you don’t know exactly what they’re going to have. You can guess pretty closely what’s in season—but that doesn’t mean those crops were good or are ready yet for your farmers. Go in with an idea of what you might want to eat or make that week and what you regularly consume but no strict list (i.e. bread, dairy, greens, fruit, root vegetables). Be flexible. If you like salads, but they don’t have romaine, what other greens or veggies do they have that you could use to shake up your lunchtime routine? Instead of potatoes, try roasting beets or parsnips. Maybe they don’t have fresh fruit yet, but they have canned items from last season.
- Do an investigative lap. It’s tempting to get distracted as soon as you arrive with pretty displays and yummy samples and buy everything in sight. (Ahem, me.) It’s easier for you to plan your week on the fly and to get the best price if you walk around and look at what all the vendors have before you make your purchase. Another reason to go early—that’s easier to do if you’re not elbowing people.
- Get what’s in season. Sure, they might have some apples lying around cellaring through the winter, but those first strawberries are going to be way yummier. Also, if something’s not quite ripe yet, better to wait another week. Inspect your fruits and veggies before you purchase them to make sure they’re at peak ripeness. Sample if you can (always ask!). And if you want to pick through or select a different item for the quarts they have prepared, don’t be shy. The farmers want you satisfied so you come back!
- Don’t get more than you need. You know how much you eat per week—or if not, at least on an average day. If you’re only shopping for one or two, you probably can’t eat 5 pounds of kale, 2 pounds of potatoes, and a bushel of apples in one week. (I know what you’re thinking: challenge accepted!) Keep in mind if you’ll be going out to eat or having guests when you’re making mental calculations. Though freezing or canning are options if you’re buying in bulk, if you’re just shopping for the week ahead, it’s better to get what you know you’ll eat than let good produce go bad. You can come back for that pretty Siberian kale next week…
- Prep fruits and veggies when you get home. I don’t always do this step, but if you’re busy and don’t regularly give yourself an hour and a half of cooking time per night (don’t judge: it’s my me time), this can help make sure you eat all those goodies you just bought! Rinse your greens by soaking them in a large bowl or pot full of water. Swish them around and then wait a few minutes. Any dirt or hiding critters should settle to the bottom. Pat dry and store in your crisper. Wash fresh fruit to keep on the counter or in a bowl in the fridge for easy snacking. Keep mushrooms in a paper bag in your fridge. Wrap cheeses in paper (lasts longer!). Chop onions and garlic or roast them for simplifying meal prep for the week ahead. You get the idea. Make it easy for yourself to enjoy your fresh, local bounty.