Farmers’ Market Tips & Tricks
Many of the Portland/Vancouver area farmer’s markets open up soon. Enjoy these tips.
We love wandering through outdoor markets and buying our food directly from the people who grow it. Whether it’s listening to the local bands, watching strangers and bumping into friends, checking out the bins of beautiful produce, or just enjoying the way my husband’s eyes light up when crenshaw melons are in season, I love everything about small, local farmer’s markets. Okay, not everything. Some of those music groups can be pretty awful. Oh, and the whole pushing-a-dog-in-a-stroller phenomenon? I will never understand that.
Many people will argue that farmer’s markets are actually more expensive than grocery stores : “I can buy carrots cheaper at Winco!” While this may be true, it misses the point. At least in my book.
My whole philosophy with living frugally and shopping with coupons is this: it allows me to save money on items that are not as important to me (dish soap, shaving cream, paper towels, band-aids, etc.) so I can spend it on the things that are (organic produce, quality meat & dairy, giving to others, travel, etc.). I love saving money where I can so we can spend it where we want/need.
Like many of you, buying quality meat & produce is becoming a bigger priority to me. Supporting local farmers is also something I am becoming more passionate about. Enter farmer’s markets. What better place to accomplish both?
Here are a few tips/ideas I try to keep in mind when we go to our local farmer’s market:
Walk through the entire market once before making any purchases. For the most part, you will be looking at local, in-season products. Because of this, most of the fruits and vegetables being sold on any given week will be repeated in stall after stall. If you buy the first bunch of spinach or flat of strawberries you come across, you’ll regret it when you turn the corner and see it for a lower price. It’s also a good way to compare the quality of each vendor’s wares to make sure you are getting the freshest, highest quality products out there.
Establish your priorities and spending limit ahead of time. This goes along with the first point. Decide what priorities are important to your family. Quality meat? Produce? Hot donuts? Hand-quilted hot pads? Establish these ahead of time in your budget and spend accordingly.
My priorities are meat, dairy, and produce. If I find beautiful cherries grown by a great farmer that are just slightly more expensive than the local Safeway, I am willing to pay more for them. If I find grass-fed beef in the same price range as the sale going on at New Seasons, I am willing to pay a bit more for it. However, if I’m blowing our grocery budget to do it, I won’t be able to enjoy or sustain it.
Keep in mind current grocery store prices when you wander farmer’s market booths. I used to keep a small notebook in my purse with baseline prices at local grocery stores on products I frequently purchased. It allowed me to know when I was getting a good deal and when I was just getting sucked in by fancy sale signs. Now I keep the prices in my head, but the idea is still the same.
Let’s face it, you can go totally overboard in those booths overflowing with seasonal produce, blowing your entire week’s worth of grocery money on things that will not feed your family for an entire week. Unless you really like chard, you want to keep an eye on your budget.
Talk to the vendors. Some are just teenage kids doing a weekend job, but for the most part the small stands are run by the people who grew or made what they are selling. Start a relationship with the people who grow your food! You’ll quickly develop a short list of favorites. Support the ones with responsible growing practices.
Remember that many farmers use organic farming practices, even if they haven’t paid the big bucks to become technically organic-certified. Ask them about it! Most love an interested audience. Oh, and I’ve found that the more interested I am, the more free samples they want me to try which is a nice little bonus. Except for that goat’s milk soap we left in the stroller for far too long…
Here are a few things I often purchase at our farmer’s market : flower bouquets, honey, melons, vegetable starts, beef, beets, greens, and the occasional piping hot quesadilla.
Enjoy the atmosphere. My husband and I often walk through the market a couple times, enjoying the great community atmosphere without spending a dime. We take in the sights & sounds, let our kids cruise down the wide aisles, smell the flowers, sample the coffee, watch the balloon man, and stop by the library on our way home for a nice, free family outing. Occasionally, there will be a small street parade or special event going on at the same time. Sometimes the best memories together are the simplest ones.
Leave a comment with your farmers market shopping suggestions!
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