Farmer’s Markets Shopping Tips on this Local Calendar

May 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Man, we’re running late with this Local Calendar.  We’ve got some good tips for you to use and our weekly summary of what’s best to buy.  There’s a few events noted, but come back later, we hope to get some more stuff in.

Even more farmer’s markets roll out this weekend, including the home of the market donut, Oak Park.  If fresh, hot donuts were not enough to lure you to the Village of Oak Park, it’s Go Green Day at the Market, with various initiatives and market add-ons including our good friends from Purple Asparagus.  Should not be too hard to find a market near you using our market locator

With a markets a-goin’, it’s market a-goin’ tip season.  Shake a publication and some kind of farmer’s market guide will probably drop out.  Do we need more advice.  Some advice is obvious and often given: bring your own bags; bring cash; bring your common sense–in other words do not expect peaches in May.  All good ideas.  Other really good ideas.  Come early if you have your eye on something unique or early in its season.  Strawberries were gone around the time the sun came up Wednesday at Green City Market.  On the other hand, looking for the best deals, get there near closing.  Here’s some one’s you might or might not have known.

  • Yes, bring cash, but those who pay everything with a debit card or some less liquid have options too.  For instance, you may find individual vendors who take cards.  For instance my favorite Michigan stone fruit growers at the Oak Park Market, Hardin Farms, takes cards.  Nearly all farmers will take a check, especially if you make a substantial purchase.  Ask.  Now, the Logan Square Market has made it possible to charge all your purchases.  I am sure other markets will be doing the same.
  • Know what’s in season (SEE BELOW).  Know also the adage, what grows together goes together.  When you go shopping, think complimentary flavors and dishes.  You can stretch that expensive box of local strawberries by baking them with local rhubarb. 
  • There is no more important piece of advice than this.  Farmer’s rarely want to bring anything home.  He or she that can make that offer for the rest of this, the remaining that, will get the best deal.  In almost all cases, the more you buy, the more you save.  It’s not the Casablanca souk.  You do not bargain down a bag of lettuce from 100 dollars to 50 cents, but as soon as you start buying more than a few of anything you can start wheelin’ and dealin’.
  • They’ll tell you to bring your own reusable market bags.  What about your reusable market containers.  Farmers will love you if you can dump their berries or whatnot in your own container.  They’ll love you almost as much if you bring their containers back the next week so they can re-use them.
  • Another way to get a bargain.  Take their yucky stuff off their hands.  If you plan on baking or something, do you need pristine fruit.  Many farmers already label “seconds”.  If you don’t see such, ask.
  • Something else really important to ask, keepability.  Some apples will last you all year.  Some are soft by next Tuesday.  Ask.  Same goes for onions or potatoes. 
  • Another way to save money.  Wait.  Do you know you can find tomatoes now at Chicago area farmer’s markets.  Grown indoors just for you.  And north of $4/lb too.  Wait a bit for normal tomato season, and you won’t spend as much.  OK< that’s easy.  The other thing to think about is not something several weeks (if not months) away, but something maybe just a week a way.  In other words, the first time something hits the market, it is often a lot more expensive than it will be the following weeks.  Buy the end of the season, it may be even cheaper.
  • Remember, farmer’s markets are not just for fruits and vegetables.  Around the Chicago area you can find pastured pork, grass-fed beef.  How ’bout spicy elk sticks, that too.  Butter, cheese, yogurt and more from the dairy aisles can be had.  Nuts for nuts, you can find ‘em local at the right time of year.  Robin Schirmer sez that the first vendors who sign up for any new market are bakers.  Expect them at your market.
  • One last thing (for now).  Cannot find those eggs.  Peak around.  Many farmers bring eggs to the market without the necessary licenses.  They just might be willing to lend you a dozen or sell you the cartons.

Share your own market tips with us.


We are high on the asparagus season.  Mick Klug, whose asparagus draw rave reviews from many chefs had asparagus line up at Green City Market in multiple sizes and colors, an aspragus-arama.   The onions and garlic are mostly green, although we are seeing more varieties of onions too.   We saw a plethora of fresh herbs including sorrel, parsley, hyssop, thyme, lovage, basil and cilantro.  Look still for wild watercress.  Other greens you may find include turnip greens, chard, rocket, lettuces (you can cook lettuces and rocket), spinach and Asian items like tsao choi.  Local apples and potatoes, last year’s crop, are still around and eatble.

Local apples remain.  There’s plenty of rhubarb and the first strawberries.

Continue to use quality preserved items.  Tomato Mountain and River Valley Ranch are good sources for canned goods, and Freshpicks has frozen fruits and vegetables from Michigan.  You might find dried fruits.

Local foods also include our great cheeses, meats, grains, beans, nuts, milk, eggs, etc.  There’s even local tofu at some markets.

Let us know what other local goods you are still seeing for sale.


These stores specialize in local foods:



Saturday – May 22

As markets roll out outside, one market remains inside.  If it’s raining all heck on Saturday, you can always get your local food at the Geneva Community Garden, 11 N. 5th St., Geneva, IL – 9 AM – 1 PM


Evanston Garden Fair – Volunteers needed for the Talking Farm.  The Talking Farm will also have organically grown plants for sale. – Independence Park, Evanston

May 26

Farm to Table Kickoff with Slow Food Chicago at Carnivale

May 27

Goose Island dinner at Vie, including Vie inspired beer recipe

May 29

Screening, What’s on Your Plate – Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – 11 AM – Presented by our friends Purple Asparagus and Myfoodshed.  Background here.

May 30

Pig Butchering – Mado 1230 PM

June 3

Growing Power Benefit – Chicago Cultural Center – Volunteers needed!

June 23, July 28, and August 25

Farm dinners at Chicago Botanical Garden with City Provisions