How to Make the Most of Your Farmer's Market

Your local farmer's market is open for the season, or soon will be. And it's your best bet for fresh, local, and organic food.

May 15, 2017
woman shopping farmer's market
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Spring is in the air, and that means local farmers are starting to harvest their delicious, nutritious crops, often selling them directly to consumers at a market near you. And buying local organic food is more important for our health than ever. Just last week, the President's Cancer Panel recommended that Americans start eating food grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones.

More: 8 Foods You Should Always Buy at the Farmer's Market

Local farmer's markets give consumers an opportunity to buy directly from local sustainable farmers. Plus, there's nothing like being able to talk to the person who grows your food. As one sustainable-farm expert likes to say, "Local farmers are not in the business of poisoning the neighbors they sell to." Plus, those farmers eat the food they grow—how's that for accountability?

Here's how to make the most of your farmer's market experience.

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Find a true farmer's market

Most people going to farmer's markets expect local, fresh food. However, some markets allow nonfarming vendors to sell produce grown far away—sometimes in other countries, where chemical laws are very lax. If you're looking for local, organic produce, you should find out if your local farmer's market is a producer-only market for the most part, meaning it's area farmers selling their goods directly to consumers. A good way to do this is to ask to talk to the farmer who grew the food at each booth. If you're not sure where your nearest market is, check or the United States Department of Agriculture's farmer's market site.

More: The 6 Biggest Farmer's Market Scams

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Gear up

Our society uses one trillion plastic bags a year, and many of them wind up littering our land and oceans. Consider making a one-time investment in reusable produce bags to protect your purchase and a market basket in which to carry everything, or to make your own produce bags, so you can bypass plastic bags and other throwaway containers for good. Besides avoiding waste, a good market basket is more comfortable to hold and can be packed more efficiently than a fistful of plastic shopping bags. If you buy fruit or eggs in cartons, ask the vendor if you can return them for reuse the following week.

couple shopping farmers market
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Go early

One of the joys of farmer's markets is the variety of super-fresh foods (especially these popular spring superfoods)—some picked the same morning they're sold! Get to your market early for the best selection and the absolute freshest produce, particularly salad greens that could start to wilt by the end of the day.

More: 6 Ways the Farmer's Market Makes You Fat

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Bring your kids

If you allow your kids to help pick out and prepare veggies for dinner, they will be more likely to eat them. It's a great way to make sure children grow up appreciating where their food comes from and who grows it. Plus, farmer's markets are often really fun, featuring music and other kid-friendly festivities (and can even serve as inspiration for kids to start their own vegetable garden).

farmer's market prices
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Be patient for the best prices

It may be very tempting to indulge in popular produce like tomatoes the first week they're in season, but that's also when they're most expensive. Wait a week or two, or buy just enough to get by. Then stock up when they come down to sale prices.

More: Is Your Farmer's Market Legit?

buying farmer's market bulk
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Buy in bulk

If healthy food isn't worth spending a little extra on, what is? But we're all watching our budgets these days, so rest assured that buying local organic produce doesn't have to break your bottom line. You're already saving money by buying direct from the farm. Look for deals by buying in season and in bulk. Then freeze, can, pickle, and preserve fruit, veggies, and even herbs so you can enjoy local goods all winter long (just follow these 23 pickling and canning recipes to get started).

blue potatoes
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Try heirloom varieties

Supermarkets generally sell just a few different varieties of a given fruit or vegetable; usually, the ones that are thick-skinned and ship well. At a local farmer's market, you can find all sorts of delicious, fresh, and sometimes unusual heirloom varieties that wouldn't survive cross-country trucking to your supermarket. Take advantage and try out something new every week. Plus, picky eating kids might really like heirloom all blue potatoes or purple dragon carrots! 

More: 7 Unique Fruits and Veggies You Won't Find In Your Supermarket

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Clean off with vinegar

The good thing about buying organic is that pesticides won't be on or in your food. But it's still important to clean off any produce when you get it home. We recommend making your own cheap and effective produce spray. In a spray bottle, mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, and 1 cup cold tap water. Shake well to mix it up, spray on your produce, and rinse before eating.

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