RECYCLED – Our Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips

May 11, 2011 at 6:07 am

Editor’s Note: With Farmer’s Markets up and running all over the Chicago area, we thought some of you would love to review our set of shopping tips.  As always, we welcome any of your own suggestions or ideas for maximizing the market experience.

At the start of the farmer’s market season, we put together a list of shopping tips.  The obsessive amongst you probably make an iPhone note of what we wrote.  The rest of you probably nodded a good nod, paid heed for a bit and know just hang in there.  For all you with the same organizational skills as your Local Beet Editor-at-Large, here’s a re-printing of our market helper.

  • 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.  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 heirloom tomatoes by baking them with local plentiful summer squash.   Review our weekly Local Calendar for a easy sense of what to buy now.
  • 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.  Farmers will also give you good tips on how to store your purchases. 
  • Another way to save money.  Wait.  Did you rush in and buy the first tomatoes.  Grown indoors just for you.  And north of $4/lb too.  Or did you wait a bit for normal tomato season.  Bet you did not 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.  [And we'll have a post soon on some special market finds.]
  • 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.
  • Beet reporter Melisa Owens has noted that she found she could get tomatoes for a mere 40 cents/lb.  Now, the obvious tip here is to look for the farmer selling his or her produce at 40 cents/lb, but what it really reminded me was this.  Do you need the fanciest.  In the current discussion on farmer market BS, potatoes are cited at $4/lb.  That’s true, but do you need heirloom fingerlings.  Same goes for tomatoes.  Granted, those heirlooms are always worth the money, but sometimes something not quite as good is still pretty darn good.  Most of the slicers you find at half the price will still hit the spot when they are farm fresh.  Remember that variety is good but you don’t always have to get the most expensive fruit or vegetable.  Save with the ordinary.

Share your own market tips with us.