Food

How to Shop the Farmer’s Market Like a Pro

Rachael loves using seasonal fruits and veggies in her recipes. It gives dishes even bigger punches of flavor, and of course, it’s always fun to cook with the freshest produce.

Your local farmer’s market is an awesome place to start, once you know what’s in-season. If you’ve never been before, though, visiting can seem a little daunting. And even if you’re a seasoned shopper, there’s always something new to learn, right?

We hopped on the phone with Laura McDonald, communications specialist for Greenmarket, a program of GrowNYC, to get some expert tips on shopping like a pro. GrowNYC is an organization that runs all of New York City’s farmer’s markets, with 50 markets throughout the five boroughs, so Laura knows her stuff.

But don’t worry, these tips work well no matter where you live!

1. Don’t Make a List

Oh yeah, you read that correctly. Do the opposite of your usual grocery store shopping plan, and ditch that list. “Part of what’s so great about shopping at the farmer’s market is being inspired by what you’re surrounded by,” Laura explains. “Use the produce to inspire the recipes and your meals.”

Once you’re back home, grab your favorite cookbook or jump online (we know a great place to start!) and search for recipes that work well with what you’ve found.

2. Do a Lap Before You Buy

Especially at bigger farmer’s markets where there might be multiple vendors selling the same produce, do yourself – and your wallet – a favor and check out all the stands before you start purchasing. Different farmers will have different prices, and you may be surprised to know that if you’d walked just a little further, you could have saved more. 

3. Time it Just Right: Go Early or Go Late

According to Laura, the best time to go to the farmer’s market depends on your goal. “If you’re looking for a bargain, get there late. If you’re looking for something specific, get there early,” she recommends.

If you are looking for a specific ingredient that might be in high demand, go right at the start of the market so you can be sure to get what you need.  

And, “If you’re someone who’s interested in finding a bargain, there are lots of products farmers won’t be able to sell the next day,” she says. Farmers might be more willing to bargain later in the day, but remember to check the hours of your local market. “‘Late’ can sometimes be 10 o’clock in the morning.”

4. Bring Reusable Totes – and Ice Packs!

“One thing we also suggest is bringing a cooler bag or an ice pack or something to keep things like meat or dairy cool in the summertime when you’re walking around,” says Laura. Especially if you’re living in a place with high temperatures or if you plan to be out for a while, this is a super smart idea. 

Rachael makes insulated totes just for the occasion. Check them out!

5. Don’t be Afraid to Make Friends – Seriously!

“What makes shopping at the market so much better than shopping at the grocery store is not just getting to talk to the farmer but to other shoppers,” Laura says. It really becomes a community experience, a chance to get to know your home a bit better. “You see your neighbors there, you see your friends, you see your farmers.”

Laura told us a story about how she asked a woman next to her what a strange vegetable was (kohlrabi!). The woman explained what it was, how to use it, and now Laura cooks with it all the time – and apparently makes a delicious slaw.  You never know what the person next to you will have to share.

6. You Can Totally Bring Your Dog (Just be Respectful)

At most markets, it’s definitely ok to bring your furry friends. “It’s part of what makes it such a fun experience – kids and dogs and all sorts of people-watching,” Laura says.

But remember to keep an eye on long leashes and doggy “business,” especially since you’re around food. “Owners should be responsible and look out for their animals.  Just keep your general manners in mind.”

7. Remember That Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Take the time to learn what’s in season where you live, which can vary in different parts of the country. And even though the sun is shining, you might have to wait a bit for your favorite fresh produce. “It still takes time for things to grow,” Laura says, with a laugh. 

8. Stock Up Your Freezer 

If your favorite fruit or veggie is in season and you’d love to enjoy it year-round, stock up when it’s freshest and load up your freezer. This will help you “extend the season,” as Laura suggests. 

Did we miss anything? Share your favorite tips for shopping the market with us below!

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Rachael Ray