Farmer's markets aren't just a good place to buy fresh, seasonal fruit and veggies. Most larger urban markets also have farmers offering healthy meats, fresh cheese and dairy, fresh baked goods, and eggs from pasture-raised hens. Many also offer a selection of value-added foods like homemade pastas, and various sauces, salsas, and preserves. In other words, it is possible to do the majority of your shopping at your local farmer's market.
Following are some tips and suggestions for a satisfying market experience.
> Bring bags from home and be sure to bring several, that way fragile, and easily bruised items like peaches or tomatoes can have their own bag and stand a better chance of arriving home in good shape.
> Spend a little time before you go planning a few meals, looking over a selection of recipes, and thinking about what you'd like to cook this week. You stand a better chance of getting what you need, and using what you buy if do a little planning. But plan with the season in mind - don't go to the market looking for butternut squash in the middle of June. And keep an open mind while you shop, be prepared to be flexible with your plans.
> Talk to the farmer's and get to know them. This is actually one of my most favorite aspects of shopping at the farmer's market. You'll know where your food comes from, and you'll have a more enjoyable shopping experience. Also, the farmers and growers well let you know what's coming in soon and what's almost gone, which will make it easier to plan and allow you to take full advantage of foods with a short season.
> Remember that not all farmer's are "certified organic" because it is costly to maintain certification. Ask your growers about their growing methods and standards, you may be pleasantly surprised. If you're buying meat ask if the animals are pastured and how they live. Most farmer's are more than happy to share, and actually like to talk about their farm and their animals. Many will even invite you to visit.
> Expect to pay a fair price - remember farming and selling at market takes tons of hard work, special skills, and business know-how. The farmers and growers deserve to earn a fair wage. However, don't hesitate to ask for a quantity discount if you are buying a whole bunch of something, most growers will be happy to give a little. When the strawberries were in and I wanted to make jam I bought a huge flat a berries which the farmer discounted. On the other hand, peaches have been in short supply this year because of a late freeze, and so I was more than happy to pay full price for the peaches I bought to preserve.
> Reuse and recycle. Return things like egg cartons and berry baskets to the farmer/grower, it will save them money, and it's good for the environment. It is always better to reuse before you recycle.
> Try something new. Challenge yourself to buy something you're unfamiliar with and ask the grower for ideas about how to cook it or use it. You'll learn something.
> Get a good cookbook or two that focus on seasonal and local cooking. Fresh from the Farmers' Market (Reissue): Year-Round Recipes for the Pick of the Crop
and Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets are both excellent choices. Also a good book on canning and preserving like Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
These books will help you take full advantage of seasonal produce, and to preserve the harvest.
Make shopping at your local farmer's market a part of your weekly routine and a family event - it's a lot of fun, it gets you in touch with your community, and the food tastes better.