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How to navigate the stands, find the greatest deals and score the tastiest foods like a veteran
There are those who visit the farmer's market every Saturday to stock up on fresh produce for the week and high-quality cheeses for entertaining. And then, there are those who visit once, feel overwhelmed and leave without taking advantage of all the goodness the market has to offer. But who can blame them? Navigating a farmers' market can be intimidating for newbies. Where do you start? What do you look for? How do the offerings differ from those at the local grocery store? Are the benefits of buying local produce actually worth the hassle?
We caught up with communications manager for Vancouver Farmers Markets Jen Candela and executive director of Ontario Farm Fresh Cathy Bartolic, who have absorbed the best tips for mastering a farmers' market shopping haul. Here, the ten things you need to know before your next trip:
1. Shop midweek markets
Many farmers’ markets have both weekend and weekday hours. While a Saturday market may be more convenient, the midweek markets tend to be less busy. To avoid fighting through crowds of people and to have a faster (and probably more successful) trip, check out the market in the middle of the week.
2. Show up early
“Hot seasonal items, such as strawberries, peaches and cherries, tend to sell out quickly,” says Jen. This is especially true at big farmers markets, where vendors can’t always meet the supply. So, in order to avoid missing out on your must-haves, show up right when the market opens.
Pro Tip: Be mindful of what time of year it is. If there is a long weekend or a holiday coming up, the market will be a lot busier.
3. Stop at the ATM
“While some of the vendors will accept debit, most only take cash,” says Cathy. Small bills and change are preferable. Watching a farmer empty her tray of loonies to make change for your $20 bill doesn’t feel good — trust us.
4. Be a savvy shopper
You may feel tempted by the brightly hued raspberries you see right when you walk into the market, but don’t buy them — yet. You could miss out on something even better. Prices can vary widely from stall to stall, so take a lap around the market before pulling out your money. This way, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal and the highest quality products.
5. Know your seasons
“We like to encourage people to eat seasonally,” says Cathy, “Seasonal produce is hand-picked at its peak time for more nutrients and amazing flavour.” Check out your local markets’ website to know what produce is currently in season before you go. You don’t want to miss out on sweet corn or garlic scape season!
6. Bring your own bags
Some of the vendors will have bags for you, but, just like your favourite fruit, they could run out before you get there. That’s why Cathy suggests bringing your own bags with you, or better yet, a rolling cooler bag. These incredible coolers are easily transportable and will prevent your greens from wilting and keep your berries fresh in the hot summer sun.
7. Buy in bulk (when you can)
Most of the farmers will have special deals if you buy one of their products in bulk. “If you want a flat of strawberries it will cost you less in the end than buying them in a quart,” says Cathy. If you’re worried about the products going bad, consider freezing them. Frozen berries and bananas are perfect for your morning smoothie. If you decide to buy in bulk, talk to the farmer the week before, so they can make sure to have enough of what you need.
8. Talk to the farmers about their products
One of the best things about shopping at markets is the people you will meet. If you want to know produce is organic or how the products were grown, just ask. “Get recipes, nutritional information and cooking tips straight from the folks who grow the food,’” advises Jen, “You can’t get that at a grocery store!”
9. Try something new
Discovering new, tasty products is half the fun of shopping at the market. Several of the farmers will have samples out for you to try. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never seen before, and you may just find a new favourite.
10. Find out about awards programs
Jen recommends finding out if your neighbourhood market offers a reward program for frequent shoppers. Your markets’ website should have all the information. If it has a rewards program, you’ll reap the tasty benefits of free bunches of lettuces, a pint of blueberries or even a jar of honey.