Spring is here! And with this wonderful season comes longer days, warmer weather and the beginning of the season for many area farmers’ markets. These markets provide shoppers with easy access to fresh seasonal produce, delicious baked goods, locally-made craft items and more.
However, to those accustomed to simply grabbing their tomatoes and potatoes from supermarket shelves, the idea of wandering through food-filled stalls while interacting with complete strangers can be intimidating. Fear not. Whether you’re preparing for your first trip to a local market or heading farther afield, these tips will help ensure you have a successful visit!
1. Time your trip. Farmers’ market offerings typically change as the season progresses. While a springtime trip to the market certainly offers its own unique charms, those looking for a broad variety of produce may be better off waiting a few weeks to visit. If you are interested in a particular fruit or vegetable, do a little research to find out when it will be available and plan accordingly.
The best time of day to visit the farmers’ market depends on your personal situation. If you are a nervous first-timer heading to a small neighborhood market, you may be best served by showing up an hour or so after the market opens. By then, there will probably be enough other shoppers to allow you to ‘blend in’ while still taking advantage of cool temperatures and well-stocked booths. In contrast, a large, popular market will likely be bustling regardless of the time, so consider arriving at the very beginning of the day to avoid long lines. Of course, if you are visiting a market that features prepared foods, you may wish to schedule your trip to coincide with breakfast or lunchtime.
2. Gather intel. It’s certainly possible to enjoy visiting a farmers’ market without any advance knowledge of its offerings. However, you can save time and confusion by having at least a general idea of the venue’s set-up, the parking situation and what type of wares will be offered for sale.
Many farmers’ markets offer websites or Facebook pages that will help you prepare for your visit. If you can’t find the information you seek online, try asking friends and co-workers who have been to local farmers’ markets which specific vendors or products they recommend from a particular market.
3. Pack the right gear. It’s nice - but not necessary - to have a sturdy market basket to tote your purchases. A reusable grocery bag or backpack will also do the job. If you live more than a short distance from the market, bring a small cooler filled with ice to help you safely transport items that should be kept cold. You may also want to pack a bucket or sturdy vase in case you come across a bouquet of flowers you can’t live without. Finally, cash remains the currency of choice for many vendors, so be sure to stop by your bank and pick up some cash.
4. Ask questions. In day-to-day life, sales pitches often seem to come with a catch, so you may initially feel wary of friendly vendors. Try to turn off this way of thinking at the farmers’ market, where chatting with sellers while considering whether to purchase their wares is de rigueur. The folks manning the booths are often the very same ones responsible for growing or preparing the food being sold, so feel free to ask them any questions you may have about food safety, ingredients or other concerns. They may even be able to provide interesting recipe ideas or serving suggestions for their products.
5. Maximize your return on your investment. Once you get your precious haul home, don’t let it go to waste! Promptly pick up any additional ingredients necessary to prepare meals using the produce, meats and cheeses you bought at the market. If you find yourself stumped about what to do with your purchases, consider cooking delicious fajitas, shish kabobs, salads or a stir-fry to use up a lot of perishables quickly. Then, fill a vase with your farmers’ market flowers, pour yourself a glass of farmers’ market apple cider and enjoy your fresh, seasonal meal!
Michelle is an attorney and freelance writer. She writes about family, travel and seasonal fun for many different parenting publications.
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