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I was so bummed yesterday because I couldn’t make it to the Farmer’s Market (FM). I woke up late, decided to drive instead of walk, spent 20 minutes looking for parking (it only takes 8 minutes by foot), and then I had to give up since I had to be somewhere else. I really had my heart set on getting more Pink Cara Cara Naval Oranges and fresh, buttery croissants from Paris Bakery for a late Sunday brunch.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the simple rules one needs to follow to have the ultimate farmer’s market experience and how I have come a long way from the first time I seriously started shopping at the FM. Most people complain that they never have time to go to the Farmer’s Market. Others feel like an outsider trying to get into the FM circle, needing to learn the lingo and mannerisms. I certainly felt that way. Or, the idea that it costs much more to shop at the FM. To ease your anxiety about the FM, follow these tips and you will be a savvy FM shopper in no time!
1. Put it in your calendar. Now it’s there and you can plan around your FM hours. Make it a point to schedule time in your busy life to buy yourself fresh groceries. The only reason you wouldn’t have time to go is if you didn’t plan for it in the first place. The FM is at the same day, same location, same time, every week (unless otherwise noted). The only difference is that it’s not there 24 hours, 7 days out of the week. Sometimes, my husband and I make a date out of going to the market. Sometimes, I run to the market, quickly buy all the things I need, and zip out of there. Going to the Farmer’s Market does not need to be a day long event, as most people think.
2. BYOB, bring your own bags. Not only is it cool to carry your own bags, most marketplaces have banned plastic bags. Plastic bags do not ever degrade, are toxic, and kill wildlife. Having your bags will also ease your comfort of carrying your beautiful farmer’s market finds without crushing or damaging them on your way home.
3. Go early. Heard the saying, early birds get the worms? It’s true, you will get the best selection if you arrive early. Often times, the best, rare things are gone within the first hour of the market opening. Though, if you get there late, vendors sometimes throw in a little extra of this or that, or just give away produce as they are closing up. It’s not guaranteed, but it does happen.
4. Carry cash. Most vendors only take cash. I usually only spend $25-40 for a full week’s worth of groceries. Carry more cash in the beginning, just to be on the safer side. Many Farmer’s Markets even accept food stamps.
5. Get to know the vendors. Farmer’s like talking about what they are selling and can offer loads of information. Unsure of what a romanesco broccoli is or how to cook purple cabbage? Ask the farmer and s/he can give you the easiest cooking methods, storing tips, and maybe even wine-pairings! Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t feel intimidated that you don’t know what a certain fruit or vegetable is. I ask all the time and it just gets the conversation rolling. The FM really is a friendly, helpful atmosphere. Otherwise, you can just look up recipes and tips online. Also, ask what all the labels mean. Most FM offer organic and nonorganic produce, so ask what the labels mean. A better question to ask is if they use pesticides or spray.
6. Shop around. If you are overwhelmed with all of the choices and vendors, just take a few minutes to walk around, get a feel for it, and observe. Then make your purchases. You will quickly learn which vendors have the best stuff, offers the best price, and other differentiating points.
7. Don’t go on an empty stomach. Usually, the FM is full of tempting treats like baked goods, crepes, and dumplings. Although, there is nothing really wrong with satiating your hunger with these goods, you will find that most of your money/time will be spent at prepared food stands and fruit instead of on the fresh vegetables. This is a general rule for when you are grocery shopping.
8. Be open-minded. You will find all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and other food that you might have never seen at your grocery store. That is because most small farms do not operate on monoculture agriculture. Also, don’t expect to find watermelon at the FM, even though your Safeway is selling it during the winter. The farmers can only sell what they grow (not imported), therefore their crop depends on the seasons–>weather.
9. Check-in (optional). Have your phone on you so you can check-in and let your friends and family know how super cool you are by shopping at the FM. (optional)
10. Carry a camera (optional). Vegetables make great photographic subjects and who doesn’t like looking at pretty food.
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