But I've seen a few families wandering around aimlessly or arriving late only to find most of the produce gone. To avoid this, I've got 7 simple steps that I think will help you have a productive trip. I bet some of you will be able to add to these, too...leave a comment if you've got other suggestions!
1. Get up EARLY! If this means you have to go to bed early, do it. Know what you are wearing, what you are bringing to the farmer's market, and, do not underestimate the importance of this one, how you will get caffeine. Plan to arrive when the market opens - or even a few minutes before (which might give you time to take care of #4 before the market even opens).
2. Have cash. I go to the ATM the day before and generally take $40 with me, sometimes more if I know I have a lot to purchase (like when I was buying a heap of peaches a few weeks ago). Try to break large bills into smaller ones (5s and 1s are best). But if you don't have time to break your bills, consider making a large purchase from one of the farmers first and breaking your bill that way. (I break my bills by getting a cup of coffee on my way and they are usually happy to make change.)
3. Bring a big bag, basket or small hand cart. Many farmers will have plastic bags on hand, but it can get very cumbersome to pick out produce and dig your cash out of your pocket while holding all those heavy bags. A big bag can be hung on your shoulder freeing up your hands. A basket can be set on the ground and obviously a small hand cart is a breeze to roll around.
4. Take a tour. When you first arrive at the farmer's market, take a quick tour around to see what is available from the farmers. This also gives you a chance to quickly compare prices a bit. Once you've made a full circuit, then start shopping.
There are some caveats here - 1) if you are worried about the availability of an item (for me it is eggs), go to those farmers first. 2) if you have a very large farmers market (more than, say, 30 farmers) you might prefer to skip the tour and instead head for the back of the market and work your way to the front. However, even for a large market it can be wise to make a simple tour of the main "aisle" just to see what is available.
5. Talk with the farmers! Get to know your farmers and let them get to know you. Ask them questions about the produce they are selling, what their future harvest might hold, where they farm, etc. Enjoy your time with them. And if there is something you particularly liked from a previous purchase, let them know! (Conversely, if there was something you didn't like, let them know that, too.) And let them know you support their efforts to continue supplying local food.
6. Remember, this is NOT a grocery store. Vegetables will not be sprayed with wax to be shiny. Some vegetables may have little "friends" with them (bugs). Vegetables may be less "regular" than what you are used to finding in a store. This is NORMAL! Super shiny, no bugs, pefectly uniform is NOT NORMAL. The farmer's market is real stuff and real stuff is, well, real.
7. Make a plan for your purchases. When you get home be ready to go to work.
- Figure out how you'll use what you've purchased. Do you need shrimp to go in that Shrimp Gumbo you are planning to make with your fresh okra? How about a new Fig Tart recipe for those figs?
- Wash and trim any vegetables that need it. Give that spinach the long cold soak it may need to get rid of all the sand in its leaves. Chop up those carrots into "matchsticks" and store in an container for the kids's snacks.
- Provide the proper storage to keep everything fresh. Does that cantaloupe need a day or two more to ripen on the counter? How about a good container to keep the lettuce from wilting in the refrigerator?
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