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How to Shop Farmers Markets

The time is ripe to enjoy the abundance of seasonal produce farmers markets have to offer. Here are helpful resources and expert tips to help you make the most of your visit.

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  1. Use your local farmers market web site as an educational tool. Many local sites provide lists of seasonal crops and availability, facts about sustainable agriculture, recipes, vendor/farmer information, related articles and more.
  2. Take advantage of a free education. For example, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market’s operator, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), offers sustainable agriculture classes, cooking demonstrations by local chefs and access to nationally renowned chefs and speakers.
  3. Plan a field trip. Ask your favorite farmer if they offer tours or scheduled visits to the farm. Bring your family for a fun day in the country or help your child’s school plan a special field trip.
  4. Share your ideas. “Farmers learn what to grow from their customers. Ten years ago, Cavalo Nero ("Black Kale") was practically unheard of,” say Laura Avery, Manager for the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. “Now it is asked for by name and many farmers grow it.” Laura also encourages shoppers to ask the farmers lots of questions. “They are proud of what they grow and happy to answer your questions.”
  5. Consider what time you go to the market. Serious shoppers usually get the worm by showing up early. Later into the morning is when crowds tend to swell.
  6. Don’t expect a vendor to break a $100 bill. Come with small bills and make a farmer happy.
  7. Come prepared. Dane County Farmers Market Manager Larry Johnson encourages shoppers to bring a cooler. “Put it in the back seat or the trunk. That way perishables and frozen items can be safely stored so you can maximize your enjoyment of all of the good activities that surround the market.”
  8. Engage farmers in a conversation about their growing practices. Just because they are not certified organic doesn’t mean they don’t follow organic requirements.
  9. Look on your local market’s web site for recipes that use in-season vegetables. You will shop with a purpose and avoid waste.
  10. The farmers market is a great opportunity to get kids to eat their veggies. Chicago’s Green City Market offers kids a frequent tasting club called Club Sprouts. It’s simple: kids try a new item each week, the market stamps a card, and when the card is full the kids get prizes and a new repertoire of favorite veggies.
  11. Start your weekly trip to the grocery store at the farmers market. Bonus: You may knock a few more items off your list beyond fruits and veggies. Many markets feature local purveyors with prepared foods such as bread, coffee, homemade pastas, sauces, meats and cheeses.
  12. Leave your pets at home. Many markets don’t allow pets, so check the web site before you leave home.
  13. "Buy bulk!" Many farmers give a bulk discount on produce you buy by the pound-full—a great deal for anyone putting up preserves or families of four or more, says Seattle-based cookbook author Amy Pennington. “Don't just buy two pints of raspberries, buy a flat and you'll be rewarded in savings and fruit for the freezer that you'll really appreciate in December."
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