RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commemorated this year’s National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 2–8) by encouraging Americans to visit their local farmer’s markets. “One of the Obama Administration’s top priorities is to make sure that all Americans—especially children—have access to fresh, nutritious food, and USDA’s ongoing support of farmer’s markets is important to reaching that goal,” Secretary Vilsack said. “At the same time, farmer’s markets help support small family farms, help revitalize rural communities, and often promote sustainable agricultural practices.” Here at Rodale.com, we’ve been singing the praises of farmer’s markets from the very beginning. But if you haven’t gone to one yet, don’t worry. With harvest time approaching, there are all sorts of farm-fresh fruits, veggies, and other consumables you can find at the market. Read on for some of our favorite tips to get the best farmer’s market experience ever.
# 1: Check the Web.
Like everyone else, today’s farmers have gone digital. Many markets have their own websites that will tell you when they’re open, list their vendors, and let you know about special events. Some of the farms that sell at the market may have websites of their own, too, with recipes, food-storage tips, and other helpful hints. And if you’re not sure where the farmer’s market closest to you is located, these online resources can help:
Subscribe to your farmer’s market’s (email or paper) newsletter, if it offers one. It will let you to know in advance what foods you might expect, and allow to plan your meals accordingly.
# 2: Talk to the farmers.
The folks staffing the stalls at the market are full of information about how to store, cook, and enjoy the food you’re buying. So go ahead and ask. Find out how they produce the food, too. Do they use chemicals? Do they farm with organic methods?
#3: Time it right and buy in bulk.
For some popular veggies and fruits, it pays to pass by the earliest crop or buy most of your order a little later. For example, the first tomatoes of the season may be more expensive than the ones that ripen a few weeks later, simply because they’re in such high demand. If you want to save some money—and can stand to wait for a week or two—hold off and the prices will drop. Talk to other farm-market patrons, or to the farmers themselves, to find out which edibles are in highest demand. If you buy when the price is low, consider buying extra and storing the excess for later.
#4: Start a market carpool.
If the closest farmer’s market is a bit of a haul, save gas and socialize: Get together with friends, family, or neighbors and take turns driving each other to the market once a week. Or, if you’re pressed for time, take turns driving out each week to pick up everybody’s produce.
#5: Bring a list.
As at the supermarket, arriving with a shopping list will make you less likely to blow your budget on impulse buys (though there are worse things than coming home with a car full of blueberries). Be flexible, though; if you arrive too late to get the greens you wanted, have a substitute in mind. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it could be a perfect opportunity to try something new.
#6: Sign up now for a CSA.
More and more farms are offering community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, in which you pay a fee and receive fresh produce, vegetables, and other farm products every week. Some farms offer cooking lessons, demonstrations, and other special events for members. But waiting lists are getting longer as popularity of the programs grows, so sign up now to get first dibs on next spring’s harvests.