Farmers markets are growing in size and number in America, though the rationale for this growth has not been thoroughly explained. Responsibility can be placed on several contributing factors, ranging from lower prices and freshness to greater awareness of what’s being eaten. What’s important is that demand has increased and it’s easy to find a farmers market operating in or near your community.
These markets, which are typically open 1-2 times per week throughout the Summer and early Fall (in colder parts of the country), feature a number of area farmers bringing their ripe, freshly-plucked produce to one location. You can also find local businesses and restaurants there selling products. If you’re lucky, you can also find pasture-fed meat (beef, pork, chicken) … this is usually more expensive than the grocery store but very cool.
- You’re getting fresh, in-season fruits & vegetables.
- You’re directly supporting local farms & businesses.
- You get to see eye-to-eye with the people who produce your food.
- You’re left at the mercy of what’s in-season and readily available.
- You will only get regional produce (nothing exotic).
I don’t usually go to the farmers market with a set plan on what I’m going to buy. Maybe that’s a bad thing from a budgeting aspect, but it gives me the freedom to say, “Damn, those potatoes look great, I need to pick up a box of them!”
At larger farmers markets, you may also stumble across re-sellers. These are people who purchase produce (say from the store) and then sell it for a slight profit margin. I’m not a particular fan of these enterprises, and you shouldn’t be either.
Tips on making the most of your trip
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. So rarely can we find transparency in the food industry than what’s at the farmer’s market. Ask about how the food is grown. Does the farmer use chemical fertilizer? Pesticides? Herbicides? Were these plants grown in a polyculture (many different plant species) field or as part of a large monoculture? Are they GMO (genetically modified organism) plants?
- Learn how to identify good produce. Some fruits & vegetables you find will be riper than others. Sometimes you want to grab something that isn’t quite ripe yet. If you don’t know the signs & signals that produce give about their condition then you need to learn how. The best way is to bring someone along who can show you.
- Know how to cook your spoils. If you buy something you’re not particularly familiar with, try to find a recipe that utilizes it. Or buy a book on the subject.
- Go early or late. If you arrive early you can pick out some of the finer specimens. If you show up near closing, you may be able to get discount prices on the remaining produce.
So, you’re ready to go?
Now it’s time to find a local farmers market. The easiest place to start is at localharvest.org. In addition to farmers markets, localharvest.org has a wealth of information about other agriculture topics (like CSAs); it can be a bit overwhelming. If you just want to find a market near you, adjust your search query to “farmers markets” and search for those near your zip code or city. Make sure you learn the days & hours of operation.