If you haven’t spent much time at farmers markets, I know they can be a bit intimidating. Locals always know exactly where to go and what to buy, and seem to possess some kind of secret, cult-like knowledge of seasonal favorites and exclusive deals.
How is a farmers market noobie supposed to sort through the piles of exotic vegetables without feeling like an trespasser?
The reality is this: Farmers market fans can indeed be fanatical (I know I am), but the farmers themselves couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming. Here are my top 10 tips for fitting in at the farmers market and getting the most from being a locavore.
1. Arriving too late
Showing up at a farmers market in the late morning means big crowds and picked over produce. Beat the rush by going early and getting the best of the season. Morning light is also best for snapping pictures, if you’re into that sorta thing.
2. Forgetting to BYOB (bring your own bags!)
Most farmers markets provide small plastic bags for your purchases (in eco-friendly San Francisco, plastic has been banned and most vendors offer paper or compostable BioBags for a small price), but you definitely want to have a larger bag to carry your bounty or you’ll be heading home prematurely.
3. Buying staples
One of the advantages of shopping at a farmers market is that you get the best of the season from local farmers, which is likely to be different from your normal grocery store purchases. There’s nothing wrong with buying foods you know you like, but try to be adventurous with new produce. You may be pleasantly surprised.
4. Not asking questions
You may not know everything there is to know about seasonal vegetables, but the farmers who grow them certainly do. Walk up to each vendor with a smile and ask them what their favorites are this week. If you’ve never cooked with them before, ask for an example recipe or serving suggestions. You can always search recipes online when you get home, so don’t feel like you need to know exactly how you’re going to prepare something before buying it.
5. Forgetting cash
Farmers market veterans know better than to show up at the market without cash in our wallets. Credit cards are not accepted by most farmers and the line at the local ATM machine is a wait you could live without. Pick up some cash on your way to avoid the headache.
6. Focus on fruit
Fruit is great but it will also put a hefty dent in your wallet. If you fear farmers markets because of the price, focus your attention on vegetables. Veggies are cheaper, and when picked fresh and in season can be almost as sweet as candy.
7. Forgetting meat and dairy
Farmers markets are the best places to find sustainable farms with eco-friendly practices. Buy your eggs, fish, milk, cheese and meat products from local producers to reduce environmental impact.
8. Bringing pets
It is illegal to bring dogs to farmers markets in California, but each state has their own policies. Check your local market rules before bringing Fluff Fluff along on your shopping trip.
9. Trying to negotiate
Farmers markets are not flea markets, and haggling is generally not part of the etiquette. Sometimes very late in the day farmers will offer discounts, but it is generally best practice to respect the set prices. Farmers work harder than most of us can imagine, and their asking prices are more than fair.
10. Not shopping around
Samples are commonplace at farmers markets and allow you to find the best produce to match your taste. Nothing is worse than buying a basket of strawberries then finding better ones two stands away. Shop around a bit before deciding on the best purchases. You know you’ve picked the right stuff if you can barely get it home without eating it all.
What are your favorite farmers market tips?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post courtesy of Darya Pino. Darya is a scientist, San Francisco foodie and advocate of local, seasonal foods. Find more healthy eating tips at her blog summertomato.