Take these six handy tips for finding and visiting a farmers market.
Farmers markets across the country are thriving as more and more people want to eat locally produced foods, support their neighborhood farms and have a connection with the origins of their food.
Individual markets reflect the pulse of the host city. With a warm climate, long growing season and regional offerings such as okra and fresh catfish, the Memphis Farmers Market can offer a very different experience from the Coventry Regional Farmers Market in Connecticut, a popular destination for New Englanders seeking everything from maple syrup to apples. The one thing all markets have in common is fresh food, farmers and foodies.
Start by visiting Local Harvest online to find a market near you, discover what special events are planned, and learn which vendors are certified organic and/or if they farm with sustainable agriculture requirements. Many markets, such as Amherst Farmers Market in Massachusetts, maintain their own websites to provide recipes and tell you what’s in season.
Arrive early to find the best selection, but also be aware that many vendors will reduce prices as the day progresses – they don’t want to have to pack up and carry things back to the farm.
Below, we’ve assembled a handy list of things to take when you head out to a farmers market:
Bags and Boxes: Bring your own reusable bags, and carry boxes for bulky items, such as potted perennials. A wagon is great for pulling heavy items if, for example, you plan to buy several bushels of peaches during canning season.
Cash: A few farmers may have portable credit card readers, but most still deal in cash. Some locations operate on a “token system” in which you can swipe your credit/ATM card at an information table to purchase tokens that can be used as payment to the vendors.
Weather Protection: Most markets are held in large open spaces in the warm months. Protect yourself from the heat, sun and summer thunderstorms by wearing protective clothing, sunscreen and carrying an umbrella. Some markets do sell items such as fresh lemonade, water and fruit smoothies but, if you’re not sure, bring your own hydration.
Gift Lists: For unique gift ideas, look to your local farmers market. In addition to offering fresh produce, meats, cheeses and pastries, many markets, such as Montana’s Gallatin Valley Farmers Market, feature vendors selling handmade soaps, jewelry, handbags and artwork.
Paper and Pen: Bring paper and a pen to write down farmers’ ideas for storage and preparation tips for the tasty wares you’re buying. Farmers can also provide instructions on how to cook everything from the beets they’ve grown to the beef they’ve raised.
The Kids: Many markets include child-friendly features in an effort to introduce younger generations to the farmers who grow their favorite foods. Bands playing children’s music and family picnic days are components of events in some cities. Even without specific child-friendly events, markets can be a fun way to teach children about the origins of their food.