Buying Local: Farmers Market Essentials


When you buy produce at your local grocery store and the products have little labels on them showing where they were grown, you’re not buying local. Most of the fruits and vegetables you find in supermarkets were picked about five days earlier, then transported an average of at least 1,000 miles — and sometimes much farther, like Asia or South America.

If you eat according to what’s in season in your local area, you’ll be eating fresher, better-tasting food, as well as cutting out the middleman and giving your money directly to the farmers who grow the products. Plus, it’s better for the environment because the distance that the food has to travel is much shorter.

Here’s a guide to how to get the most out of your trip to the farmers market:

Understand what’s in season.

Eating according to what fruits and vegetables are in season is a great way to get the best of what nature has to offer. Consult this guide to find out what you can expect to be available, but you should also feel free to chat with the farmers about what they anticipate having in the coming weeks and months. A fun way to try new foods and new recipes is to purchase something you haven’t tried before each time you visit the farmers market. Ask the farmer for cooking tips and how the food should taste when it’s prepared.

Bring your own bag.

Farmers markets may not have plastic bags available, and it’s detrimental to use plastic bags, anyway. Invest in a few cloth bags and bring them with you on your farmers market trips. Organic produce, such as herbs, can get bruised and damaged easily, so you might want to bring a few paper towels to wrap them in and a container to store them until you get home. Consider bringing a small cooler or an insulated bag if you plan to buy perishables like eggs, milk, cheese, or meat.

Time it right.

Heading to the farmers market when it opens will mean it will be less crowded and the stands will all be well-stocked. Some products tend to sell out as the day goes on, but if you’re hunting for the best deals, go right before it closes. Rather than taking their unsold food back home, farmers and vendors tend to offer discounts late in the day. Also, if you’re trying to get the best deals, don’t buy something the moment you see it. Note the price, then keep looking around — another farmer or vendor might be selling the item you want for less a few stalls away.

Know what to buy.

Organic Gardening magazine says you should make it a point to buy certain items from the farmers market and not the supermarket if possible. These include carrots (go for colorful ones, particularly purple carrots, because they’re higher in antioxidants than the orange variety); tomatoes (one third of supermarket tomatoes are grown in Florida, which is known for heavy fungicide use); berries (they perish quickly, so they’re transported via air freight, one of the least earth-friendly ways to travel); asparagus (more than half of the asparagus Americans eat comes from Peru, and it’s treated with pesticide — which shortens its life and affects the taste — before it can be sold in the U.S.); and peaches (they don’t stay fresh for long when transported, and they’re treated with more pesticides than any other fruit.)

The 8 Best Foods to Buy at the Farmers Market [Organic Gardening]
6 Steps to Mastering the Farmers Market [Good Housekeeping]
Tips For Shopping at Farmers Markets [Serious Eats]

Attribution: CC BY 2.0/ Flickr/Britt Reints