Chances are there’s a farm stand between your place and the supermarket; you just have to know where to look. Here’s how to pick up great deals on the best of the season’s bounty, and what to do with it once you get it home.
Think you’ll only find fruit and vegetables? Think again! Vendors offer a variety that rivals your local supermarket. Our shoppers found honey, wine, microbrews, breakfast and entree meats, artisanal chocolates, ice cream, and baked goods.
If you’re shopping for an arrangement to grace your table, you’re in luck! Chances are you’ll find ample, reasonably priced bouquets at two or more stalls.
Newbies can visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Farmers Market Directory to find a nearby location.
It’s no secret that the unit price shrinks when you buy in bulk. If you’re short on cash or storage space, form a buying club. People will be more likely to join and keep shopping if they share your tastes and if the market is centrally located. Ask friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, or even fellow gym members.
No matter how good the deal, food that spoils before you can eat it is a waste of money. Learn how to preserve bumper crops of produce and you’ll eat well long after the last stall has closed for the season. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great online and community-based resource. Visit the NCHFP site for info on canning and freezing. If you’re a visual learner, be sure to check out Ball Canning’s YouTube channel.
Advancements in agricultural science, refrigeration, and transportation have made the seasons irrelevant, so we’ve forgotten how big a deal it really is to find bananas in January. Although you’ll never have to worry that your farmers market haul is in season, we recommend that you check the calendar to learn what is at its peak and how long your favorites will be available.
The pie lady is as likely to sport a Square reader as a roll of bills, but it’s a good idea to leave your plastic at home. Cheatsheet.com advises “… ensure that you have plenty of small bills and quarters. Vendors run out of both when they’re making change for customers all day. So if you negotiate and offer to pay in quarters and $1 bills, many vendors will make you a deal.”
Don’t assume that buying directly from the producer will guarantee the best value. Cheatsheet.com says, “Sometimes, the grocery store offers sale prices you simply can’t pass up. To get the most out of your food budget, you should always compare prices and weigh your options.”
Take a quick circuit of the market to make sure that you’re getting the competitive price (for that time of day) and the best quality. (Prices may drop near closing time.) If you’re lucky enough to live near two or more markets, you may even want to scope out each one and decide which you prefer.
Consider substituting fresh, flavorful farmers market finds for the pricier ingredients you’d ordinarily buy at the supermarket.
Farmers may offer a share of the upcoming fall harvest (or allow you to sign up for a portion of next summer’s crop).
Maybe Farmer Fred needs a new transmission, or Pam the Pie Lady is in the market for a new stall. If you take the time to connect with the people who grow your food, you may find they’re open to accepting services instead of cash. (See Become a regular, below)
Early birds enjoy the best selection, but not necessarily the lowest prices. Vendors may reduce prices late in the day to drive demand and lighten the load for the return trip. You may also get better deals on cold and/or rainy days.
If you shop the same stalls each week, vendors will soon get to know you and your buying habits. Perks range from info about what’s about to peak to reserving items while you shop, to money-saving opportunities (see Barter System, above.)
Conventional markets ‘stage’ food to encourage consumers to buy. You won’t find dirt clinging to potatoes in Walmart. Produce that looks ‘misshapen’ is either discarded or marked down. Once you overlook the asymmetry and dirt, you’ll realize that you’re purchasing the freshest food any non-farmer will ever enjoy!
You’ll have to check labels to ensure that products are pesticide- and GMO-free. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual Dirty Dozen list of fruits and veggies that are highest in pesticide concentrations. Here is a link to the comprehensive 51-item list.
Need help paying for food? SNAP (food stamps) can help.
You may be surprised to learn that low-income shoppers can use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets.
General guidelines state that an individual with a monthly (earned) gross income of $1,485 or less, two-person households with monthly (earned) gross income of $2,003, or four-person households with monthly (earned) gross income of $3,038 or less may be eligible for assistance. Other criteria may affect eligibility, so click here to learn more and view application info.
If you take the time to learn what’s in season and which options are best for gas sufferers, you’ll eat well and save money. While it’s true that shopping at farmers markets takes a bit more planning than a supermarket run, you’ll find that the selection and savings are worth the extra effort!
CharcoCaps® dietary supplement relieves gas and bloating FAST!*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
For further reading:
“Good Nutrition” reading list
Free handouts and tip sheets for families, individuals (Las publicaciones son gratuitas están disponibles en español)
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Facebook page
Healthy Eating on a Budget
Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults