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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Savvy Shopper Tips for the Farmers Market

Jun 30, 2022 06:30AM ● By Bob Benenson
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Green Community by Sandra Glover

One longstanding obstacle to convincing folks to go all in on local foods at farmers markets is the widespread belief that it is prohibitively expensive. It’s not. True, some items have always cost a bit more at farmers markets than at a local big-box supermarket. Farmers whose produce carries the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic or other sustainably grown certification eschew artificial fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and GMO (genetically modified organism) crops, which means that their methods are more labor-intensive than is the case for a majority of conventional farmers. 

Most farmers market vendors are small- to medium-sized producers, and they don’t have the economies of scale that enable conventional growers and retailers to offer deep discounts. Yet there are many ways to save money at farmers markets.

Compare prices. Most markets have multiple vendors selling similar varieties, so take some time to stroll around and check out the prices at the different stands. We might find one that is the price leader across the board or that different stands have lower prices for different items.

Buy in season. Simple supply and demand: The more of a product a vendor has to sell, the more likely it is that it is going to be priced to move. So, practice seasonality and look for favorite items at the peak of their growing season.

Buy in bulk. Many farmers market vendors provide discounts for multiple purchases of the same or similar items. If summer squash is priced at $1 per piece, but $2 for three, it is the equivalent of, “Buy two, get one free.”

Savor seconds. Consumers became familiar with the concept of perfect-looking (if not perfect-tasting) produce with the era of mass food retailing. As a result, a lot of imperfect fruits and vegetables have been tossed away. The growing national concerns over food waste are leading some consumers to look closely at items—formally known as “seconds” and sometimes referred to as “ugly” fruits and vegetables—that don’t have perfect appearance, but are perfectly edible, nutritious and usually cheaper. If they aren’t visible at our favorite farmer’s stand, just ask, because they are often tucked away. We may not want to serve them as-is to dinner guests, but when chopping and dicing or making stews or preserves, appearances make little difference.

Know the farmer. Farmers market regulars almost certainly get to know their favorite vendors, and may quickly get to be on a first-name basis. They will freely share advice about how to prepare the items they sell and what’s in stock now, soon or at the end of their growing seasons. It also improves chances of getting the occasional personal discount—but do not show up near closing time and ask for a discount on unsold products. Most farmers and market managers hate that. If lots of people wait until the last minute, a lot of farmers would soon be unable to stay in business.

Keep it cool. Produce picked a day or two before hitting the market is going to be fresher, taste better, maintain a higher nutrient density and last longer than products that are picked before their peak and sit in warehouses for a while. But that shelf-life advantage can shrink if farmers market purchases are not protected from high temperatures. Some strategies are to shop early on hot days, bring along insulated bags and cold packs, and possibly buy frozen fish, poultry or meat on the way home to keep the produce chilled.


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