I like to believe that for as long as there have been farmers, there have been farmers’ markets. While this may not be entirely true, farmers have often sold directly to their customers through roadside stand, which has grown into the rural tradition of farmers’ markets.
Farmers’ markets typically open in early spring and will often run into the last days of fall. And while they’re great places to pick up the best of what’s in season, they have also become mini-communities with cultures all their own.
As farmers and local producers begin their spring harvest and head for the market, there are a few things to keep in mind that will make the experience a great one for you, your fellow customers, and the farmers and organizers.
Do make a list
Yes, this is a tip borrowed from grocery shopping, but when you get to the farmers’ market and you see the rows of tables and tents full of great vegetables, jams, breads, you may get overwhelmed and return home with a pale of honey and a container of olives instead of the week’s veggies and fruits you intended to get. Your list should reflect not only what you need for your cottage but also what’s in season and what’s for sale. Don’t expect to find corn or strawberries for sale in late April, and in late October you’re more likely to find kale, chard, and apples.
Do bring a bag (or basket)
Unlike many grocery stores, a lot of farmers don’t have an endless supply of bags for you to put your goods in. Also, many farmers’ markets are now plastic-free. Get in the habit of bringing your market basket or bag, and that way you won’t end up juggling bags of lettuce, pints of strawberries, and jars of jam back to your vehicle.
Do shop around
You’ll notice there will be many farmers selling the same thing. Instead of buying from the first stand you see, make a note of the price and keep browsing. It’s easier to make decisions once you have seen everything than if you’ve spent all your money at the first four stands, and you might end up getting a better deal.
Don’t rely on plastic
Farmers’ markets don’t take credit cards or debit, so take out enough money to get what you need. I kind of like that you can’t put things on credit card or debit, as this always keeps my spending in check and keeps me focused on what I need instead of what I want, even though the line at times can be blurred.
Farmer’s markets aren’t like flea markets, and you shouldn’t treat them that way. Don’t waste a vendor’s time by trying to get a deal on your farm fresh eggs.
Don’t bring a crowd
It’s great to bring your husband, three kids (including a toddler and a stroller), your dog, and your best friend and her family, but remember that farmers’ markets are often crowded with little isle space. Try not to stop and chat and clog the flow, and try to keep an eye on everyone; it’s easy for kids to be lured away by the glow of a sticky bun.
Do build relationships
Farmers’ markets are great places to build relationships with the people who are growing and making the food you’re buying. When you’re roaming the aisles of the grocery store, you don’t know who made the loaf of bread you’re buying or who grew the tomatoes in that can, but at the farmers’ market you have access to a wealth of information that could help you plan your barbecue, plant your garden or eat better.