Summer is upon most of us, and that means farmers’ markets. If you’ve never been, or even have been going for a while, here are five insider tips to help you shop the market like a pro.
1. Bring cash, in small bills.
The vendors at the markets have a very long day, many of them are one person operations, making it difficult to go get more change during the middle of the day. Recently, I’ve noticed many of the booths selling larger ticket items have the ability to take credit cards with a card reader attached to their cell phone. However, the guy with an array of fruits and vegetables expertly displayed in baskets is unlikely to have such a thing. (I think it’s because it’s not worth the fees to charge your $4.59 purchase of cucumbers and onions.)
So, bring lots of cash, but bring smaller bills. Please, don’t be that guy who asks them to break a $100 bill when the market first opens, when you’re only buying $16 worth of strawberries.
2. Bring your own bag.
Having your own bag with you makes it easier on you, and eliminates carrying around an armful of precarious plastic bags. A sturdy reusable grocery bag is great for loading up your treasures, and your local market is pretty sure to have one available for purchase at the information booth. So if you don’t already have one, buy a bag and support the market at the same time. Everybody wins.
Confession: I bought a french style market basket/bag for this purpose. It’s adorable, and I feel quite cute carrying it around. Oh, and it’s not so girly that my husband won’t carry it when I really get it loaded up. (Think ahead!)
3. Not sure what to get? Ask the guy selling the stuff.
I’m always finding some new-to-me item at the market. I love asking the farmer or artisan at the booth to tell me about what they are selling. If you’re on the fence about buying said item, they usually have helpful suggestions on cooking, cutting, or eating it. I’ve found them a wealth of information.
Last week, I was buying shallots from one of my favorite booths. When I wasn’t sure which basket of shallots I should get, I turned to the farmer and asked my favorite question: “Which one would you pick?” They have never steered me wrong. Go a step further and ask them why they would pick that one (if there’s not a line behind you). Also, they love to be asked, and they may give you insider tips about when their strawberry truck is rolling in. (Yes, that has actually happened to me.)
4. Be ready to try new things.
Did you know that carrots come in many colors, onions are not always white, tomatoes come in a rainbow of colors, and green onions have many different names? Yep, these are the things you can learn at the market. If you see something new, ask to try it, or smell it. This is one of my favorite things! Be open to trying new things. That’s how I found my favorite kind of cucumber: lemon cucumber. They are delicious, but a little strange looking at first. Just try it!
5. “What’s coming in the next week or two?”
This is another good question to ask your favorite vendor. They may have strawberries coming by the truckload next week, and if you know that ahead of time, you can clear your calendar next weekend to can or freeze them. Summer produce has very short cycles, and weather can make them even shorter or non-existent. So, talk with “your guy” at the market and find out what’s next. Then revisit #3 and #4.
Do you love to shop a the farmer’s market, too? What are your insider tips? Thanks for sharing!
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