I’ve never met a farmer I didn’t like. I’ll admit I might be a bit biased. After all, I come from a family of hobby farmers, and my brother and I had our own veggie stand at the local farmers market when we were kids. But aside from my own happy memories, you just can’t deny the extraordinary qualities that most farmers possess—they’re kind, resilient, honest, dedicated, wise and incredibly hardworking.
Though today’s markets are a bit different than the ones I grew up with (hallelujah for food trucks, entertainment, dog bakeries and more), the fresh fruits and veggies are still the real draw for me. And the folks who run the stands are still as hardworking and wise as ever.
In fact, we asked farmers from all over the country to give us their best ideas for enjoying local markets, and we loved their responses. So take a look at these top tips from this farmers market guide. Then get out there and gather up a basket full of treasures from your local farmers. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.
1. Don’t haggle
Haggle at a flea market, but not the farmers market. It’s usually not well received. Here’s why: Farmers are almost always giving you the best price they can while maintaining a profit margin. Be happy to pay in full. You’re supporting a local farm.
2. Show your support
Many vendors are on Facebook, and some have newsletters you can sign up for. Just ask. They will love the support.
3. Compare AND contrast
Not all markets are created equal. Look for those specializing in homegrown, home-baked and home-crafted items. The produce found there almost always tastes best and is the most nutritious.
4. Be adventurous
Many farmers will have heirloom varieties, which may look different from the picture-perfect tomatoes and carrots you’re used to.
5. Look around
You don’t have to stop at the first stand you see that has artichokes. It’s OK (and part of the experience) to walk the market first to compare prices and produce. Then you can decide where to spend your money.
6. Go early
Head to the market right before it opens to scope out what’s for sale. It’s actually fun to watch the set-up process. Then you can map out your route and develop a good plan of attack when the stands open.
7. Bring a tote
Stash a reusable bag in your car to reduce the number of plastic bags that farmers have to provide for sales. Of course, make sure the bag can hold plenty. We all tend to buy more than we think we will.
8. Make friends
Get to know the farmers; ask for a card or write down their contact info. They are used to providing this information. Then you can get their products regularly, not just when the market is open.
9. Bring an open mind
Don’t just grab your tomatoes and go. You might go to the market for a specific item, but it pays to be flexible and consider other produce while shopping. You might discover a new treasure.
10. Make a list
It’s just like when you go to the grocery store. Otherwise, you’re bound to forget something. A list will help you make sure you pick up everything you need for the week’s meals.
11. Ask questions
Farmers love to talk about what they raise (as long as they aren’t super busy). They often take great pride in educating customers about their farms and their wares. Ask questions, and soak it all in.
12. Purchase in bulk
If you’re looking to put food up for canning or freezing, ask if there’s a discount for buying in bulk.
13. Dress comfortably
You’re outside, it’s hot, and you might be there awhile. Perhaps you’ll want to go for a stroll, too. Be sure to dress appropriately from your head down to your feet.
14. Resist the urge to sleep in
Go bright and early for the best selection possible. You don’t want to risk your favorite items selling out. This is especially true when it’s finally harvest time for a specific fruit or vegetable.
15. Don’t be grabby
Sure, you can inspect the fruit and veggies and help yourself, but don’t handle every single tomato in your search.
16. Have cash
Many vendors don’t have access to electronic card readers to process your debit or credit cards.
17. Take good care
Don’t leave fresh produce in a hot car. If you need to run errands after your market trip, then bring a cooler for your goods. After all, you just spent the money; preserve your investment.
18. Stock up
You want to buy the most of whatever is in season. Not only will it be abundant, it will usually be a bargain.
19. Try something new
It’s easy to be a creature of habit, but go to the market vowing to try at least one thing you don’t typically buy.
20. Learn their schedule
Some vendors have their own roadside stands or will be at multiple locations during the week. Ask them where else you can find them. It’s a good way to discover new places for fresh fruits and veggies.
21. Refrigerate ASAP
You should put most items in the refrigerator as soon as you return home to keep them fresh longer. Tomatoes are one exception; they’re best left on the counter, stem end down.
22. Offer a compliment
These farmers usually get up with the roosters to pick and prep their goods. It’s really hard work! Tell them their strawberries, peppers or tomatoes look good. A little praise can go a long way.
23. Do a little investigating
Make sure that a market is truly a local one and that no reselling of produce from larger or more distant vendors is allowed. You can often ask a market manager these questions or do a little research online.
24. Buy fresh
All fruits and veggies have their own signs of freshness. Onions, for instance, should be hard. Tomatoes should be firm but not hard. You should also look for pale spots, which could come from heat scalding.
25. Learn about organics
If you care about how the vendors raise their produce, ask if their farm is certified organic. Though many will have a sign saying as much, don’t hesitate to ask how the food was grown, what was used for fertilizer and how pests and weeds are controlled.
26. Scrub ’em
The produce probably got rinsed before it appeared at the market, but you should still wash everything before you cook or eat it.
27. Get tips from your farmer
Ask how long the eggs, dairy products, produce or baked goods should last in the refrigerator. Also, don’t be shy about asking how to prepare an unfamiliar item. The grower will know and is usually happy to share this information.
28. Wait and see
If you’re looking for a deal, wait until closing time approaches and see what a vendor has left to sell. Don’t insult the farmer with a low offer, but most folks would rather take a lower price than have to pack things back up.
29. Be patient
Those stands can get quite crowded at times, and there’s no real “take a number” option. Try to be patient (even if you were there first), and know that it really is worth the wait.
30. Ask for garden advice
Farmers are often willing to share their growing know-how. If you’re having trouble with something in your own garden, see if they have a moment to offer hints.
31. Get the whole family involved
Take your significant other, kids or grandkids along—not just to help you carry the produce, but to enjoy the market with you and help pick things out.
32. Educate yourself
Learn what the signs and labels for different vendors and products stand for. It’ll help you better appreciate what you’re bringing home.
33. Take notice
Look around for nonprofit or just plain offbeat booths that might be at the market. You might gain a whole new perspective of what’s available in your community.