Ah, the farmer’s market. It’s where you go to be inspired by the bounty of fresh, seasonal, local foods; a place to grab a bite of delicious prepared food or coffee; and gathering spot to meet up with your friends to listen to some music and chat about the week. It can also be overwhelming and expensive if you don’t plan a little in advance! Here’s some tips we’ve learned from working and shopping at the farmer’s market for years:
Get a snack before you shop!
This one is good to keep in mind when you are just on your usual grocery store run as well. Shopping is much more pleasant with a clear head and a full stomach, and you will certainly spend less money on impulse buys if you aren’t being driven by hunger pains. If you happen to be visiting us at the Sunday Marin County Farmer’s Market, may I suggest grabbing a bagel from Wise Sons, a selection of dim sum from Tru Gourmet, or a healthy smoothie from Native Juice?
Invest in a few key pieces to make shopping easier and safer
Unless you are using a stroller for your infant or toddler, you should consider investing in a wagon or one of those trolleys, or shopping bags on wheels. It is so much more pleasant to stroll the market if you aren’t also lugging 5 pound sacks of fingerling potatoes or a trio enormous melons in your arms! Ikea has some inexpensive trolleys, or you could go with the classic Radio Flyer for serious hipster cred. And a cooler or cooler bag, along with a few ice packs, can keep your meat or dairy items safe and fresh as you circle the market on a sunny day.
Early visitors to the market have smaller crowds to deal with and first pickings on all the produce and meat. So if you are looking for a quieter experience, or the absolute highest quality, then early is definitely the way to go.
If you are unsure if a stand is organic or sustainable, just ask the farmer!
The farmer might not have wanted, or been able to pay the money for, USDA organic certification, but this doesn’t mean that the produce or meat hasn’t be produced in a way that meets or even exceed those organic standards! There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved in organic certification, and not everyone chooses to go through it. For instance, our meat is not certified organic, but our veal calves are raised purely on sustainable wild growing grasses and their mothers’ milk. You’d be hard pressed to find anything that comes closer to a natural, sustainable, humanely raised product. If you want to learn more about how we raise our animals, or how the produce vendor across the way grows those beautiful tomatoes, just ask! We promise we won’t bite, and we do love chatting with you!
Plan multiple meals using one kind of produce or meat
Many farmers and ranchers will offer package deals and discounts on buying in bulk. While we can tell you more about whole animal shares, we also offer things like ground saver packs, where you get a discount for buying a certain larger amount of ground veal. Or the squash stand might offer 1 pound of zucchini at $3/lb, but 4 pounds of zucchini at just $1.50/lb. So it would behoove you to get the larger quantity and score a great deal on fresh, in-season produce! Just make sure to plan a few different ways to use it throughout the week so it doesn’t go bad before you get to it! In our case, you can always stick any extra raw or cooked meat in the freezer to use later.
Circle the market once before committing to any large purchases
Another good one to note is that prices can vary widely at the market. Some stands might offer stonefruit at twice the price of other stands! Most fruit and vegetable vendors are more than happy to offer samples, so my recommendation is to try before you buy. At the peak of the season, it seems like everyone has peaches for sale, and they are all priced differently and have various levels of ripeness and sweetness. So find some you like after sampling—you might be happy to pay a few extra dollars for the sweetest peaches to eat raw, or you might be looking for a great deal on a flat so you can make some fresh peach basil jam. Either way, a little tasty research will go a long way!
Engage your kids in the process
This is for all the parents out there—the secret to getting kids to eat good healthy food is to get them excited and engaged in the process of selecting it and cooking it! Talk to your kids about why this apple looks better than that apple, or what dish you might make with some of our veal cutlets. Help them pick the best-looking items, and if you need help, just ask! We vendors love interacting with kids, and are always happy to help educate anyone of any age. If your kids feel more connected to the buying and cooking process, they are much more likely to try and even enjoy new foods.
Become a regular
Ok, so you’ve found your favorite fish stand, the one that always has the most consistently high-quality seafood that you have enjoyed several times. Now that you know you can trust that fisherman, visit them often! Developing a relationship with your favorite farmers, ranchers, and fish sellers will keep you in the loop about any upcoming special deals or events. Sometimes, if I have a really limited quantity of a particularly amazing cut of veal, I will put a stash aside for the loyal customers who I know will be really tickled by it! This way, I ensure that my regulars are always taken care of. If you want the VIP treatment at any farmer’s market stand, visit them often! We depend on the support of our loyal repeat customers, and we like to show our gratitude to them in lots of different ways.
We hope this post has sparked some new ideas on how to make the most of your next farmer’s market visit. Do you have any hot tips or suggestions that we didn’t include here? Drop us a line and we might feature them in a future post. And don’t forget to drop by and say hello next time you are at the market!