Farmers' Market Pro Tips Straight From a Farmer's Mouth

Twenty 20 / @heatherdeffense

For a farmer who spends all of her time surrounded by vegetables, you'd think I wouldn't want to spend my one free day a week hanging out at the farmers' market but, the farmers' market is my favorite place to grocery shop. The produce is reliably fresh, local and vibrant, and I get to meet and support farmer friends. What's not to love?

For some, the experience of going to the farmers' market can be overwhelming. I have walked away from more than one trip to the farmers' market empty handed and disappointed because I forgot to bring my reusable bags. Or I've missed out on because I arrived too late and other customers beat me to the first asparagus of spring. While there is certainly no wrong way to shop at the farmers' market, there are a few things you can do to make your next visit a resounding success.

Getting Ready

First thing's first: check the weather! Most markets are outside, especially in the summer, so you'll always want to wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the season. Don't forget to stash an umbrella in one of your reusable grocery bags if the forecast promises rain.

Bring a good amount of cash with you, since many farmers at smaller markets don't accept cards (although this is changing). Readers using income assistance, not to worry! Check to see if vendors accept EBT cards, like they do at increasing numbers of markets across the country. Sometimes, if vendors don't take cards and/or EBT, the market organizers will do so at their tent in exchange for tokens that work just like cash.

When to Go to the Farmers' Market

Nothing ruins an outing like a sweltering July afternoon overcrowded with customers fighting each other for the last of the non-wilted lettuce. Arrive early, and enjoy perusing before the crowds show up. And there will probably be more than one breakfast option at the market, so you can be first in line for the day's muffins or breakfast tacos.

Choosing PeppersAdobe Stock / Susan

Choosing What to Buy at the Farmers' Market

Don't know what to buy? Check the Seasonal Food Guide online to see what produce is at its peak -- there's even an app you can download. If you have the time, you can use the guide to plan your menu before heading out. And don't forget that there are more than just veggies at the farmers' market -- cheese, honey, heritage meats and even plants for your own garden are a regular feature.

Asking About Sustainability at the Farmers' Market

One of the best parts about shopping at the farmers' market is that you can actually talk to the people who grow your food. On top of getting recommendations and recipes, you can ask vendors about how they raise their animals and grow their fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that it's often farm staff (and not the farmers themselves) you'll find at farmers' markets, and these folks may or may not be as well informed. Remember, farmers and their staff take pride in their products, so please be respectful when inquiring about farming practices even if not all of your questions get answered.

Be Flexible and Have Fun!

My favorite part of the market is that it changes every week. If my go-to egg farmer isn't at the market when I show up, I meet a new farmer to buy eggs from that week. If something you planned to buy is sold out, try something entirely new. If you are at a loss, ask a farmer for their recommendation. Remember, going to the market should be fun, so have fun!