10 Farmers Market Shopping Tips

San Francisco Farmers Market
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Shopping at a farmers markets is the easiest way to eat locally-grown, fresh produce. It's easy to know where the food comes from—the grower is right there and you can ask them. But with a wide variety of options and some lesser-known fruit and vegetable varieties, the farmers market can feel overwhelming.

Some shoppers go home with sacks full of unrelated items, letting half of them go bad in the crisper. Others end up with a single bunch of carrots and a belly full of samples, unsure what they should buy for this week's meals. A bit of planning can keep weekly farmers market trips fun and make cooking a snap all week long.

  • 01 of 10

    Know Your Seasons

    Root Vegetables at Farmers Market
    Root Vegetables at Farmers Market. Jena Cumbo/Getty Images

    If you start out with a basic knowledge of seasonal produce, you'll know what kind of fruits and vegetables to expect when you arrive at the farmers market. Keep in mind that seasonality and items on offer will differ depending on what growing region you live in.

  • 02 of 10

    Plan Meals Ahead of Time

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    Since you know what you're likely to find at the farmers market, you can do a bit of meal planning and shop accordingly, much as you would at the grocery store. Make a list and note the amounts you'll need of each item. Because the farmers market is subject to seasonality, and vendors may run out of items or simply not have them that week, maintain some flexibility. No asparagus this week? Try substituting broccolini.

    Get inspired before you hit the market:

  • 03 of 10

    Bring Small Change

    It's extremely rare for farmers market vendors to take card purchases, so you'll need to bring cash. Although vendors will make change, purchases will go quicker if you have exact (or close to exact) change. Bringing a stack of ones and fives will make things easier for you and the vendors.

  • 04 of 10

    Bring Big Bags

    At Market with Bag
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    Some farmers market vendors offer bags, but they tend to be thin and flimsy plastic ones that groan under the pressure of any substantial produce purchase. Make sure everything gets home from the farmers market without crashing onto the sidewalk or spilling onto the floor of your car by bringing your own sturdy canvas or nylon bags. A backpack can make the hauling easier, especially for weighty or bulky items.

    If you buy a lot every week, consider acquiring a wheeled cart or wagon (strollers make wonderful conveyances for fruits and vegetables) to get your haul from the farmers market home in one trip.

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  • 05 of 10

    Go Early

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    Markets tend to be less crowded right when they open or just before they close. There are exceptions to this rule, so try going to your market at different times to figure out the best time for you.

    For the best selection, go to the farmers market early. The best goods tend to go first, and popular-but-limited items may even sell out before the day is done.

  • 06 of 10

    Go Late

    For the best deals, go to the farmers market late. Farmers and other vendors sometimes discount products in the last hour or so instead of loading them back up and schlepping them home. Note that some markets have rules against end-of-the-day discounts.

  • 07 of 10

    Be Spontaneous

    Zucchini with Blossoms Attached
    Molly Watson

    Yes, you’ll fare better if you plan your trip to the farmers market. However, you need to leave a bit of wiggle room for those strawberries you didn't know would be at the market so early, or the zucchini blossoms you've never tried before. Trying new things is part of the fun of going to farmers markets.

    You’re buying ultra-fresh produce when you shop at the farmers market, so let its natural flavor show when you cook it. Keep preparations simple and let the peak produce shine.

  • 08 of 10

    Talk to the Farmers

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    If you find a fruit or vegetable that’s new to you at the farmers market, don't be afraid to ask the farmer about it. Most vendors will be happy to tell you all about their products, including how they are grown, their origins, what they taste like, and how to prepare them. Because farmers are extremely familiar with their crops, they often know the best way to fix them for dinner. Plus, they might give you a sample to taste.

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  • 09 of 10

    Buy in Bulk

    Molly Watson

    The best deals at the farmers market are had when you buy in bulk. You'll enjoy the best flavors and the best prices when you buy lots of whatever is at its harvest peak.

    If you're worried about using all of that fresh produce up, try some new recipes or learn the lost art of preserving food. Freezing, canning, and drying are just some of the ways you can save the seasonal flavors you find at the farmers market for later in the year.

  • 10 of 10

    Think Whole Foods

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    Produce sold from the farmers market tends to be minimally processed, whole foods. Carrots come whole and unpeeled. Beets still have greens (and dirt) attached. Learning to handle just-harvested produce can take some getting used to, but the superior flavor is worth the adjustment.

    A bonus of whole foods: much of the stuff that grocery stores remove from fruits and veggies before you buy is edible. Carrot tops make a delicious pesto, and sauteed beet greens are wonderfully rich.