You know how in Europe and in the olden times (lol), people used to exchange crops or head to their local market every week to buy what they need? Ya know, before the almighty supermarket and the convenience of processed snacks?
Yeah, me either. Pass the Triscuits.
Just kidding. We have farmer’s markets now and we have them indoor and outdoors. If you’re fortunate to live in an area with Amish or other cultures that rely heavily on their own agriculture, you can visit these little shops and markets year-round for fresh, seasonal produce that is typically WAY cheaper than the supermarket.
Of course, there will be things that you can’t get no matter where the farmer’s market is. For example, here in Pennsylvania, we’ll never get truly fresh oranges or pineapple like Florida can because we simply can’t grow our own tropical fruits here. Likewise, Florida will have a tougher time getting fresh autumn squashes because their climate (hot and humid) doesn’t support that.
I’d like to break down a couple of little tips and tricks for getting the best deal on produce at the farmer’s market while still eating healthy. Some of these tips will overlap with my article on how to meal prep on a budget, but you won’t be able to use things like coupons, specials, etc, unless you’re at a local grocery store (here in South Central PA, we have Karn’s).
So how do you get the most out of your trip to the farmer’s market?
#1 Make a List
In order to make a list, you have to know what you’re going to make and what ingredients you need. So, even if you’re not meal prepping, you can’t just go to a farmer’s market or supermarket willy-nilly. It’s inevitable that you’ll miss SOMETHING. Do some semblance of planning or knowing what you want to eat for the week before you make your list.
I’ll reiterate this again, make sure that you make a list (and check it twice or thrice) before you go anywhere. You’ll spend the least amount of money this way and not come home with that extra box of Swiss Cake Rolls (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Little Debbie).
#2 Make sure you price compare
Before you head out to the farmer’s market, or super market, make sure you get an idea of what certain produce and meats will cost you at the super market. Grab a local ad or circular or download an app like Flipp, so that you can compare. Sometimes the quality and freshness will outweigh the increase in price, but that is a personal preference.
But also make sure you compare apples to apples (pun intended) as you decide. This takes a little extra time, but is worth it.
#3 Remember that you’re helping Local farmers and local businesses
I’m a huge fan of supporting small businesses because they have their little quirks and they have a more personal relationship with their customers. I also don’t buy from them often because their wares are of higher quality and more expensive than I would normally pay and, since I consider myself a minimalist (more on this on Monday), I usually come up with some reason that at this time, I cannot justify the cost.
When it comes to the farmer’s market, however, I have no problem buying produce and other food wares because I have a vested interest in supporting local farmers, who work very hard for very little. These families truly live their passion, and, as providers of a primary food source, they should be supported much better than they currently are (rant over).
Remember that, even if an item is a little more expensive, you’re supporting someone’s livelihood, a child’s education, and you’re supporting your neighbors, not a large corporation’s bottom line.
That should be enough of a reason. But if you need a few more, you can read them from the Better Business Bureau.
Pro Tip: Even if a local farmer isn’t “Certified Organic”, that doesn’t mean their produce is any less nutritious or that their practices aren’t sustainable. Consumer Reports defines the difference between local and organic. Many people associate the terms synonymously, which, while confusing, could also be a good thing, IMHO. The main difference is that, to call yourself “organic”, you have to be certified by the USDA. Because local produce usually travels less than 50 miles and is picked and sold within 24 hours, you can expect better overall nutrition and fresher food, even if it’s not “Certified Organic”. If you’re really concerned, just ask.
#4 The fresher, the better
The best part about farmer’s markets is the subtraction of the middleman from the equation. Produce and other goods can stay as close to the source as possible, meaning better nutrition and better flavor. Since it doesn’t have to be transported all over the country, and maybe just a few miles, you know where it’s coming from and you can meet the caregivers.
But you also want to watch out. Like anywhere else, some of the produce can be overripe or bad by the time you get it home, and that’s just $$$ down the drain (oops). So make sure you use this handy infographic from Real Simple Magazine to help you pick the right produce at a farmer’s market or your regular supermarket.
#5 You can still eat Healthy and Save the Planet
I would even argue that produce from a farmer’s market is healthier than the produce at the supermarket, especially if the farmers use their own seeds for their crops (they do a crossing of different types of seeds, a natural gene building if you will), unlike Monsanto, which I’m still concerned that their intentions are less than stellar.
A lot of produce is commercially grown on acres and acres of land and is transported 1200 miles on average before you buy it. Local produce travels 50 miles or less (Wow.) So, already you see my point. Trying to eat natural while polluting the already sick earth. Cool, got it. In addition, large commercial producers genetically modify seeds before a farmer purchases them for the season. So, even before the crop is grown, you’re already in sticky territory.
If you’re being sensitive about natural resources and your health, farmer’s markets are the way to go. If you’re concerned about the sourcing or their environmental practices, inquire about them. I’m sure they would be more than happy to talk about it with you.
Where to find a Farmers Market
With all these reasons in mind, farmer’s markets are the way to go if you want nutritious, fresh, tasty and inexpensive produce. If you want to find a local farmer’s market, the USDA has an entire directory here so that you can find one near you. There’s also indoor and outdoor farmers markets as well, so be sure to look or inquire so that you can still get great produce even after it gets cold.
A lot of farmer’s markets have weekend and weekday hours, so you can plan your week around it. You could also make it a trip for the girls (or guys) and plan a dinner or other little get together to make the trip seems less like a grocery run and more of an experience.
What has your experience been with farmers markets? What is your favorite one in your area?
Go in light and love,