by: Stacy Wiseman, RD, LDN
Big, juicy, red tomatoes bursting with flavor for your favorite salad topping or if you are a southerner, like me, the long-awaited tomato sandwich. What about that delicious ripe watermelon that is the star of the show at your neighborhood BBQ. Peaches, white corn, summer squash, okra, cucumbers, and berries make up some of the items that you can find at your local farmers market.
Many offer a treasure trove of other items such as local honey, cheeses, jams and jellies, spice blends, flowering plants, and hand-made items from local artisans. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your shopping experience at your local farmers market.
1. Know What’s in Season-when shopping at your local grocery store the produce section is
typically stocked with the same produce despite the season. However, when visiting your
local farmers market, you will need to know what is currently in season to get the most out
of your shopping experience. A seasonal produce guide can be found at Seasonal Produce
Guide | SNAP-Ed (usda.gov). Seasonal produce found at local farmers markets, which has
been picked at its peak time, will deliver excellent sources of nutrients and flavor.
2. Plan Meals Ahead of Time-Although it is a good idea to plan a grocery list ahead of time, it
is also important to be flexible. No two farmers markets carry the same items so you may
encounter items on your list that are not available or have sold out by the time that you
arrive. The vendors/farmers can be an excellent source of information in offering a
recommendation for substitutions if certain produce is not available. Part of the excitement
of local farmers markets can be trying new foods. Leave some wiggle room in your budget
for different produce. You never know when you will discover a new favorite food.
3. Bring Cash and Your Own Bags-Many farmers market vendors now accept debit and credit
cards, but there are still some who are “cash only”. It is a good idea to have smaller bills so
that vendors do not have to make change from larger denominations. Also bring plenty of
reusable shopping bags in all different sizes. Backpacks are an excellent idea for your
purchases and some people even invest in small wagon type carts for bulk purchases.
4. Arrive Early for the Best Selection-Many vendors sell out of their best produce early in the
day. It is often a smart idea to arrive when the market opens so that you have first pick of
the available items. Try to buy high-demand produce first like berries, corn, and heirloom
tomatoes. Arriving late can also have benefits, such as less traffic and better deals. Some
vendors will discount their products towards the end of the day to get rid of them. This can
help if you are shopping on a budget.
5. How to tell When Something is Ripe-Use your sense of smell, sight, and touch to select the
best produce. With fruits like peaches, plums, melons, and berries you want the fruit to be
fragrant which will mean the natural sugars have developed. The color of the fruit should
be consistent without bruises and the fruit should have a gentle give when you press with
your thumb. Vegetables are typically picked when they are ready to eat, but you want to
look for items that look fresh and crisp. Greens should have a vibrant green color without
yellowing or wilted leaves. When purchasing think about how many days you plan to keep
the fruits and vegetables. Buy some that is perfectly ripe for eating within 1-2 days and
some that have not yet ripened for using later in the week.
6. Follow the MyPlate method-When choosing foods, remember the USDA's MyPlate method
which emphasizes making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and the rest of your plate
with whole grains and lean protein.
How do you find a farmers market near you? A quick google search can bring up locations, but you may find flyers at local community centers, libraries, and local family-owned restaurants. The Local Harvest and USDA websites also have online directories for farmers markets across the nation. Visiting farmers markets can be a wonderful way to support local farmers while providing nutritious, whole foods for you and your family.
Happy shopping and happy eating!
1. Fielder, E., (2022, July 18). Farmers Markets: Bringing the Farm to Table. Eatright.org. Academy
of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Watson, M., (2021, July 23). 10 Farmers Market Shopping Tips.
3. Levin, H., (2021, November 1). 15 Tips for Shopping for Fresh Produce at Local Farmers Markets.