Making the most of farmers markets

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Making the Most of Farmer’s Markets

I really enjoy going to my local farmer’s market but I’ve realized that I may not be making the most of this unique shopping experience.  Often, I’m like a kid in a candy store, where I start picking up the first things I see and continue to buy without a sense of rhyme or reason.  Then I’d find that I was tossing wilting produce before I’d even had a chance to cook it.

Happily, many markets now run all year in the Valley,  but prime farmer’s market shopping seasons are on the horizon so I thought it’d be a perfect time to check out some key shopping tips, try them out and report back to you.

I compiled a list of the best tips and then I headed out to the

Roadrunner Farmer’s Market near 32nd Street and Cactus, to try them out and sharpen my shopping skills.  The result?  There was a difference. I got my favorite items, found some unexpected treats, learned about some things I’ll want to pick up in the future and even stuck to my budget.  Success!  So here’s what I learned:

Go early or go late

Early makes perfect sense for several reasons especially right now in the heat – you have a little window of cooler temps but you’ll also, of course, get the pick of the crop (so to speak).  The farmers have all their goodies before anything sells out.

If you’re not an early riser, or just forgot, don’t forgo the trip because of the time.  Many farmers will still have lots of goodies –they continually restock, non-produce vendors plan their inventory to last the entire market time and often a farmer or vendor may choose to discount at the end of the day.  I got a bargain on my lemon cucumber because it was one of the last ones.

Walk through the market before you start

This tip alone changed my shopping dramatically.  My biggest mistake was to get so excited from the very first vendor that I’d start buying immediately.  This time, I took the advice, walked through the market to see what was available and then circled back to decide and purchase.  This way I saw all the Heirloom tomatoes from all the vendors, for example and didn’t have buyer’s remorse that I missed a better option because I’d already bought something.  This strategy also makes it much easier to stick to your budget.

Don’t Negotiate

It’s a farmer’s market, not a flea market.   Don’t confuse the two.  The farmers and vendors work hard to bring the freshest and finest products to the public at farmer’s markets.  They price the goods fairly.  Just keep in mind that sometimes the prices may not be lower than your grocery, but the products are fresh, local and high quality.  Shop wisely to fit your budget but don’t try to negotiate a posted price.

BYOB – bring your own bags

Most vendors have plastic bags to help you out, but you’ll want to bring your own larger bags or wheeled container if you plan a larger shopping trip.  I found a firmer basket to help prevent “smooshing” of fragile goods also helpful.  Another good thought is to recycle those clamshell containers you get with strawberries and such to transfer fragile produce sold loose at the market.

Know the rule about pets

The market near me, allows dogs but many markets do not.  Research that fact before heading out with Fido.  Don’t assume that because one market allows pets, all of them do.  You don’t want to have to head back home empty handed.

Ask questions and be adventurous

There’s nothing wrong with buying the usual.  But take the time to ask questions of the vendors.  They’ll be happy to tell you what’s wonderful this week, what you might want to try, what’s coming up in the near future and even how to prepare some of their favorite items. 

Also, save some of your shopping money to pick up the unexpected.  I’ve found some favorites, like the items from Pickled Perfection, that I never thought I’d find at a farmer’s market.  These delightful, handmade, pickled goodies like asparagus, celery, mushrooms and more, are even a favorite gift these days.  They were an adventurous purchase I made because I tasted a sample, learned about the product and had my “try-it allowance.”  The goat cheese from Crow’s Dairy is another example.  That, one week, was my fun splurge and now I just have to have it in my fridge.

Farmer’s markets are also becoming a popular stop for the trendy food trucks and catering companies also cook up ready to eat fare while you shop.  So, plan to have some breakfast or lunch while you shop.  Last week, a crème brulee vendor tempted me (sorry didn’t last for the show).

Don’t forget meat and dairy

Speaking of cheese.  If you haven’t been to a farmer’s market in a while, you might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of options for meat, seafood and dairy available at today’s markets.  I purchased some delicious trout one week that was so incredibly fresh.  You’ll find cheeses and options for eggs and even grass-fed beef and meats. 

Know the payment options

If in doubt, take cash.  But some farmer’s markets (like the Roadrunner Market) take debit and credit cards. If you’re on a budget – I’d suggest taking cash as you become a seasoned shopper however.  I find it very easy to overspend as I see so much that I’d like to have. If you have more discipline than me, you’ll be fine. Some markets and vendors even accept WIC or food stamps so check out the websites first.

Here’s the info on the goods!

These are sources for some of the items I purchased this week and showed:

Pickled Perfection – tangy, delicious pickled goods – many that you wouldn’t expect.  If you’re a fan of pickled asparagus in a Bloody Mary – this is your source!  They’re at most of the larger farmer’s markets.

Crow’s Dairy – Peppercorn Chevre

This is the goat cheese that many of the chefs on the show swear by.  I often see it on the cook top’s ingredient line-up and now I can have it in my own fridge.

Bread Basket Bakery – Cinnamon Bread

Truly fresh baked bread without heating up the house!

And finally, here are some website sources to help you find markets in your area.
Downtown Phoenix Public Market
NE Corner of Central Ave and Pierce St.

Enjoy the market!  Shop local and support our hardworking farmers.

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