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10 Tips For Shopping at a Farmers Market

woman holding tomatoes
by Jess Snader on December 14, 2020

The easiest way to get locally-grown, fresh produce is at a farmers market. A farmers market is a great way to get the family to shop together since there is something there for everyone. Because of this wide variety of options, the market may seem overwhelming or confusing. We've provided you 10 simple tips that you can use to make the most out of your experience or can help you feel at ease before you go.

1. Bring Cash

Bringing cash is probably the most important thing you can do. It's always a safe bet. Many farmers markets are beginning to adopt the use of credit cards and smartphone apps, but in Lancaster, where a large portion of the stands are owned by the Amish or Mennonites, they stick to cash. Having smaller bills is also a huge help to limit change.

2. Know the Season

In order to get yourself the best produce, it is crucial to know the season. Equip yourself with basic knowledge about which produce is in season, so you know what to expect at the market as well as what will be best to buy. If you're completely lost, Seasonal Food Guide lets you customize your location and the time of year to show what's in season in your area.

3. Talk to the Stand Owners

Talking to the stand owners as well as the workers is one of the unique experiences you get from frequently shopping at a farmers market. If you are a regular customer, you have the opportunity to form relationships with them. This makes your shopping experience, as well as theirs, that much better. You can also ask questions such as where certain products came from, what they taste like, and how to prepare them, while making sure to be respectful of the fact that they are working. Many people will know exactly how to answer your question and if they don't, there is always somebody else to ask. 

4. Plan Your MEals

Planning your meals ahead of time helps enormously when trying to decide what to get at your farmers market. Having a list will save you money and time because you'll know which produce items to get and how much of each. While your list may seem handy, the market may not have what you're looking for that week. No need to fret, just ask the vendors for a good substitute or if they have something similar for you to try. 

5. Take a Lap

Before you commit to the first produce stand you see, walk around the market. There is bound to be at least two stands with products you're looking for. This allows you to see what's available and compare the prices and quality of the produce. You can ensure that you get the best quality for the fairest price.

6. Arrive Early or Arrive LAte

Arriving early or arriving late both offer unique benefits. Arriving early guarantees the market to be less crowded. Arriving early also gives you a better chance of getting the best quality produce. Because the best, top-quality goods tend to sell out by the end of the day, it will benefit you to arrive before the rush. It also helps to know which items are in high-demand so you can be sure to buy them first. Arriving late will also yield less traffic and you can get good deals. If there is an abundance of produce left, some vendors will discount their products to get rid of them. This can help you if you're on a budget.

7. Ask About EBT Cards/Stamps

If this applies to you, it can never hurt to ask vendors if they will accept SNAP/EBT benefits. The overall percentage of farmers markets and vendors that do accept them are on the rise. Low-income families can have access to local, fresh produce. In fact, some vendors at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, located in Reading, PA, accept EBT transactions.

8. Don't Bargain

Leave your negotiation practices at home. Do not expect the vendors to bargain. Their stand and products are how they make a living. Like we mentioned in tip #5, if you walk around the market first, you can find the cheapest option instead of bargaining. In general, you will probably have to pay more for fresher, locally grown produce than you would in the grocery store, but the better quality is well worth it.

9. Buy More than just Produce

While we've been primarily focusing on produce, there is so much more that farmers markets offer. Many markets offer bakery products, candy, jewelry/clothing, poultry, meats, cheeses, etc. There are numerous options outside of produce that you can explore.

10. Try New THings

That being said, never be afraid to try new things. Whether that means visiting a new vendor, trying a food you've never heard of before, or buying something impulsively, leave some room in your budget. You never know what you might find.

If visiting a farmers market isn't your cup of tea, check out this list of other family activities

Topics: Food