Does your city have a farmers’ market? Chances are, it does, since increasing numbers of people are taking an interest in how and where their food was grown. Markets are great places to get inspired and buy quality produce for affordable prices. You may also be able to purchase meat, eggs, homemade pastries, jams, and fresh herbs. It all depends on who lives in your area and what products they cultivate. If you’ve never been before, here are some tips to help you have a great first experience:
- Carry cash. Leaving your credit cards at home will force you to stick to a budget.
- Do a walk-through before making purchases. If you only have $15, you don’t want to buy the first tomatoes you see only to find better ones four stalls away.
- Arrive early. It depends on the popularity of your market, but certain items, such as eggs, can sell out quickly.
- Buy what looks great. So you don’t know what to do with a Sunburst Squash (see below). Neither did I, but don’t they look delicious? This is a great way to broaden your palate and get excited about vegetables.
- Don’t go crazy. The market is like Sam’s Club but with fresh produce. Three dollars can get you a lot of eggplants. So it’s worth asking: do you like eggplant enough to use six of them? Do you know what you’ll do with so many? What other produce might need to take priority because it won’t last as long, and does this mean that the eggplants could rot in the meantime? There are certain things, like hot peppers, that I buy at the grocery store because I can only handle one at a time.
- Bring your own shopping bag. Growers will give you plastic bags for your purchases, but fragile items can still get squished or bruised. I like to take a cloth bag with a few large Tupperware containers. This way, I can store fragile items in the Tupperware and sling the bag over my shoulder, leaving my hands free for things like potted herbs or melons. I also keep a cooler in my car so nothing rolls around driving home.
The people who sell at farmers’ markets are proud of their products and eager to share their knowledge. Get to know your favorite growers–you can find out what they will have the following week, ask them how they would recommend using what you’ve bought, and learn about the different varieties that they have for sale. If you plan ahead and resist the temptation to buy too much, a trip to the market can quickly become one of the highlights of your week.
Here are my purchases from my first weekend in Jonesboro, for a grand total of $9:
Here are the meals I made to use up the tomatoes and squash (we ate the fruit as a snack). If you’d like to try your hand at one of these, click one of the links below.