Tips for Farmers’ Markets (and Fresh Produce)

Tabletop full of fruits and veggies, organized by color from orange carrots to purple eggplants
Collect produce from farmers’ markets, produce boxes, or community gardens. | Photo Courtesy of Jocelyn Hsu

Farmers’ markets are a fantastic way to get fresh produce, meet local farmers, and interact with your community. Sometimes these markets can seem daunting because of all the people and booths, but with these tips, you’ll become a seasoned farmers’ market shopper in no time:

  1. Know what’s in season: Understand that strawberries will be fresher (and probably cheaper) in the summer, while acorn squash will be fresher in the fall. To learn when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in-season, use this helpful link.
  2. Go early or go late: If you go early, you will get the best pick of the produce because it has been freshly laid out by the farmers and not yet handled by many fellow shoppers. If you go late, you will get the best deals because farmers don’t want to take leftover goods back to the farm with them.
  3. Bring big bags: Bring your own, reusable bags so you’ll have a place to hold all your produce. Otherwise, you will be stuck carrying several, small plastic bags that you gather from each booth.
  4. Bring small change: Farmers’ markets are usually “cash only” so bring lots of small bills and even coins. The farmers and staff will appreciate not having to break large bills and not having to spend extra time counting out change.
  5. Go with a weekly menu in mind: Plan what you want to eat for the week (write it down and bring the paper along with you) and then go shopping with this menu in mind. For example, if you want to cook a batch of Good Morning Muffins, make sure you visit the booth that sells green onions.
  6. Talk to the farmers: The farmers and other staff at the booths love to talk about their produce. You can ask them specific questions about their favorite way to prepare green beans or how to tell if a watermelon is ripe. If you build a relationship with the farmers each week, you’ll get better deals and great cooking tips.
  7. Compare prices (between booths): Don’t buy the first box of blueberries that you see. Check the other booths that also sell blueberries and see which one is priced the best. Travel around the entire farmers’ market once before you buy anything.
  8. Buy in bulk (for better prices): Often, there will be a better deal if you buy more of something because farmers don’t want to have leftovers at the end of the day. Either buy things that you can cook easily and then freeze or go to the farmers’ market with a friend and split everything you buy. (Don’t buy in bulk if you think you won’t be able to find a way to use it all.)
A closeup view of two hands, carefully slicing the stem of a rhubarb plant
Community gardens are another fresh produce option. Read more below. | Photo Courtesy of Jocelyn Hsu

A note about access:

Most of these sites are disability-friendly and eager to help customers. However, since this kind of venue isn’t in a permanent structure, the vendors may not realize that they are still required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to access of aisles and providing assistance. If you are blocked from reaching anywhere at the site or you are treated rudely for needing help, ask one of the vendors for contact information for the coordinator of the market. Call the coordinator and tell him/her that he/she needs to learn about the law, so that people of all abilities can enjoy the farmers’ market.
Alternate ways to buy fresh produce:

If your local farmers’ market isn’t accessible or you’re interested in finding fresh produce elsewhere, there are certainly other options:

  1. Produce Boxes: You can order a box of produce to be delivered to your front door or picked up in a pre-arranged location. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of “ugly produce” at 30% less than the grocery store price (the produce from one such box is pictured in the first image on this page). Search the Internet or ask your friends about companies like this in your area.
  2. Community Gardens: You can also make use of community gardens, in which you can volunteer for a few hours each week in return for some of the garden’s fresh produce. Good examples of this in the Bay Area are Phat Beets‘s community gardens and the UC Gill Tract Community Farm (pictured in the second image on this page). Again, use the Internet and your social network to find out if a neighborhood near you has one of these gardens.
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