Farmers market season is in full swing here in Ontario – and I am loving it! But navigating the market can be confusing and overwhelming – sometimes it’s hard to know what to buy, where to spend your money, and how to make the most of your farmers market experience. So today I’m sharing my top 10 tips for shopping at farmers markets:
1. Shop around
Walk around and visit all the vendors before deciding what to buy. This way you can be sure to get the best deals and the best quality. Last time I was at the market I bought the first raspberries I saw, but after buying them I realized they were mushy! There were much better looking berries at other stalls, so I wish I’d shopped around first.
2. Bring your own bags and containers
You probably already bring your own reusable tote with you, but have you thought about bringing your own containers? I like to bring tupperware with lids for my berries and cherry tomatoes so that they stay protected in my bag. I will also bring old plastic bags from the grocery store for things that I don’t want to put directly in my tote, like beets that still have some dirt on them. Vendors like it when you do this because it means they can keep their containers and reuse them, and save money on buying bags!
3. Talk to the vendors
Talking to the vendors is a great way to learn more about your produce and even pick up some cooking or recipe tips. They may even cut you some deals. One time I complimented a vendor on her gorgeous beets, and she gave me 50 cents off the price – she’s now my go-to person when I need beets. Another time I asked a vendor about a variety of apple I wasn’t familiar with, and he gave me a few free ones to sample!
4. Question the source
I don’t know about other farmers markets, but at mine there are some vendors that sell their produce directly from the food terminal. Even though much of this produce is still local, I prefer to buy my produce from the farmers themselves. So ask questions to find out where your food is coming from! Or just use your judgement: if you see blueberries at a farmers market in Ontario in June, chances are they are not local. If you’re not sure when a crop is available here in Ontario, check out this handy guide from Foodland Ontario.
5. Go early
I know some people say to go late so that you can get the best deals, but by the afternoon on a summer’s day, most vegetables are looking pretty sad and limp. Not to mention some hot selling items like early season berries might already be sold out. I much prefer to go first thing in the morning to get my pick of the freshest produce!
6. Don’t go in with a plan
So this is the opposite of what I usually tell people. When shopping at the grocery store, it’s always a good idea to have a plan and stick to it so that you don’t overbuy. But when it comes to farmers markets, you never know what is going to be there or what will be the freshest. I like to just go in without a plan and buy what looks the best to me. I find the best meal inspiration comes from the farmers market!
7. Connect online and on social media
Find out if the vendors at your market have websites and/or social media accounts and connect with them to be in-the-know about their crops, their favourite recipes, special deals, etc.
8. Be picky
Don’t be shy about making sure you get the best quality produce. Ask the vendor if you can take a quick peak at all the tomatoes in a basket to make sure they are fresh and not damaged; open a carton of farm-fresh eggs to look for cracks; give zucchini a quick squeeze to make sure they are firm. It’s okay to make sure you are paying for the best quality! Another tip is to ask the vendors when something was picked. Some things like beets and potatoes are good for longer periods of time, but if berries and leafy greens weren’t picked that morning, I would find another place to buy them!
9. Ask if you can customize
Often when I’m shopping at farmers markets, I’m just buying for one person. So I may not need 4 zucchinis at a time or a whole basket of potatoes. And most of the time when I ask the vendor if I can buy half, they are happy to accommodate.
10. Enjoy it!
Set aside a chunk of time to go to the farmers market so that you don’t feel rushed. Chat, sample, dawdle, and enjoy the experience!
Do you shop at a farmers market? What are your tips?