It's farmers market season, and there's likely an abundance of fresh produce, meats, and dairy available at a pop-up market near you. But while the rainbows of colors and hustle and bustle is exciting, it can also be overwhelming if you're not sure what to look for. But fret not: When it comes to stocking up on locally sourced goods, there are a few key farmers market shopping tips that can help you reduce waste, optimize nutrition, and get the most bang for your buck.
In addition to being good for your health, Danielle Luipersbeck, a health and wellness coach, owner of Nourished Life Now LLC, and former organic farmer, adds that farmers markets are good for your hometown, too. "Farmers markets are an excellent way to support your local agriculture community and reap the benefits of a fresh harvest," she points out. In other words, shopping locally is a win-win, so you might as well take advantage while you can.
Ahead, three nutrition and local harvest experts share their secrets for making the most of your farmers market trips. From planning and bargaining to extending the life of your perishables, these tricks will help you utilize your time and budget so you can shop like a pro all summer long.
Make A Plan
The first step is to arrive at your farmer's market with a mission. Kim Goeltom, certified Master Wellness Coach by The International Association of Wellness Professionals, says she plans her meals for the week then makes a shopping list accordingly.
"The other thing I do is scope out the farmers market website in advance so that I can find out who will be attending, then make a list of the booths that I want to visit," she says. "When you have a strategic menu and list of which booths you want to go to, you can get the most out of your shopping experience."
Do Some Research
Further, Goeltom says that learning about the vendors will help your dollars stretch. "Research the farmers," she suggests. "Look for things like which farmers use non-GMO and organic seeds and which don’t. It is possible to find fruits and veggies that have gone through an organic process and are not labeled [or certified] 'organic,' and those fruits and veggies tend to cost less."
And when all else fails, just ask. "You can ask the farmers about their strategies and process for growing their foods," she adds. "Not only will you find healthier options, you’ll learn more about your food, too!"
Arrive Early (And Take A Lap)
"My biggest tip for those heading to their local market is to go early ... the best stuff will sell out fast!" says Katelyn Nolan Shannon, culinary research and development chef for sweetgreen, a platform connecting consumers to fresh, healthy food. "Once you arrive, do a quick lap before making any purchases; you may spot some great-looking strawberries early on, but later find even more ripe ones (and possibly cheaper!) further down in the market."
What's more, strolling around the stalls gives you a great opportunity to try samples and talk with farmers about their goods. "They have great tips on how to best eat and prepare their fruits and veggies, and it can be helpful to ask them what produce is coming soon and what is wrapping up. It may be your last week to get the season's cherries so it's good to know to buy while you can."
Browse For Bargains
While most shoppers are happy to pay sticker price for local business, Luipersbeck says there's nothing wrong with trying to bargain for slightly imperfect goods. "Chat it up with your farmer," she advises. "An incredible amount of produce goes to waste. Don’t discount slightly bruised produce; many farmers would rather offload their produce at a lower price than lose it. This means you may be able to score five pounds of produce for the price of three pounds."
Shannon shares a few more cost-cutting secrets. "Remember that farmers often offer bundle prices," she explains. "For example, you can buy three pints of strawberries and save $3, or something similar."
She continues, "For the biggest bang for your buck, stick to produce that you see everywhere in the market. This indicates it is in season and will always be a better deal (and more delicious) than harder to grow items or out of season fruits and vegetables."
Stock Up On Other Fresh Goods
Luipersbeck reminds that farmers markets aren't just for fruits and veggies, and you can often find meat, eggs, dairy products, jams, breads, and lots of other goodies, too.
"Eggs and meats will also be more nutritious coming from a farmers market," Goeltom points out, adding that the benefits of eating free-range and grass-fed eggs and meats include less cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories. "After any food is harvested, whether that is a vegetable, fruit, animal product, or fish, it will start to lose nutrition with each passing day. The key to getting the most nutrition from your food is to purchase and eat locally-sourced food that has been recently harvested."
Shannon also mentions her favorite non-produce purchase. "I always love to purchase fresh flowers at the stands. Your local market will often offer less expensive selections, and they tend to last a lot longer than standard bouquets from the grocery store."
Since peak nutrition has an expiration date, Goeltom recommends only getting enough food to last through the week (unless you're planning on canning or freezing, of course). That way, you'll be able to reap the benefits of eating fresh with less chance of it going to waste.
Another thing to keep in mind is the ripeness, depending on when you plan on eating your fruits and veggies. "If you aren't sure, the farmers are always happy to help you pick out the fruit," says Shannon. "They often bring levels of ripeness so they can help their customers enjoy peak ripeness for when they plan to eat it. Tell them, 'I'm planning on bringing a watermelon to a barbecue tomorrow, can you help me pick one out that will be ripe tomorrow?' I do this often and it never fails. After all, farmers know their produce best!"
Making Your Haul Last
If you plan on buying in bulk or your groceries begin to lose their luster, there are a few expert-approved tricks that can help you prolong the life of your groceries. "You can always freeze fruit and lettuces/kale and spring mix to make smoothies," Goeltom recommends for wilting greens. And if your carrots or celery are going soft, storing them in a glass of water in the fridge will help revive them. "The carrots and celery will absorb the water and be bright and strong again for a few extra days," she explains.
Luipersbeck says that one of her hacks is making big batches of soups stews, and freezer meals, then storing them in the freezer. You can also try blanching and freezing your veggies to preserve them long-term. "Vegetables that freeze well are corn, tomatoes, summer squash, green beans and peppers," she says, and recommends checking out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for how-to instructions.
Or maybe you want to try your hand at canning. "Freezing and canning produce is not as intimidating as it may seem," Luipersbeck assures. Plus, "there’s something about cooking your summer farmer’s market green beans in December that warms the soul."