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How to Successfully Shop at the Farmer’s Market

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This is one of my favorite times of the year—the weather is warming, the days are getting longer, the flowers are in bloom, and farmer’s markets kick into high gear. If you are curious about farmer’s markets but feel overwhelmed, intimidated, or just don’t know where to start, I can totally relate as I used to feel that way, too. So, now that I’ve conquered that fear, I wanted to share my tips on how to successfully shop at the farmer’s market.

how to successfully shop at the farmer's market: baby eggplants

In my experience, there is a lot of romance and mystique that is tied to farmer’s markets. We love the idea that our food will be super fresh and local, that we will get to build a relationship with the farmer who grows our food, and that we will be surrounded and inspired by amazing produce and other food items. But, for many of us, when we arrive at the market, the variety of options and the crowds of people who all seem to know exactly what they’re doing feels a bit overwhelming. And, if you bring your kids along with you, that can up the stress level even more.

But it doesn’t need to be that way! Once I started regularly going to farmer’s markets, I started to discover that, in fact, they are fun, wonderful places that can be navigated efficiently or used as an opportunity to explore and expand your horizons. In addition, it can be a great way to get your kids engaged in exploring new foods, especially fruit and vegetables.

So, I’ve put together some tips on how to successfully shop at the farmer’s market and am also sharing a really fun way to get your kids in on the farmer’s market fun.

farmer's market bell peppers

How to Successfully Shop at the Farmer’s Market

Find your market

The first step to successfully shop at the farmer’s market is to find one that’s close to you (after all, driving for an hour to get to the farmer’s market kind of defeats the point). Ideally, it should also be a place where you feel comfortable.

The fastest and easiest way to find your local farmer’s market(s) is to use the USDA’s farmer’s market search tool, which is searchable by location. This will help you find the market closest to you, if you don’t know where it is, or give you ideas for new ones to check out.

Explore before you buy

Don’t feel pressure to make your purchases at the first stall you encounter. Vendors at farmer’s markets are very used to people walking around and just looking at what’s available and won’t see you as strange or rude.

So, first just take some time to walk around and explore the different vendors to see what’s available and what’s calling your name. Whose arugula looks the best? Whose strawberries are calling to you? Does a vendor have a great deal on an item on your list? Are you inspired by a type of produce you aren’t familiar with or by one of the local specialties that’s being offered? Take mental (or written!) notes.

If you don’t know, ask

If you see an ingredient you aren’t familiar with or that you’ve always wanted to try but aren’t sure how to prepare, just ask. In my experience, vendors love to share preparation ideas (and usually their ideas are very simple and really highlight the flavor of the item you are looking at).

In addition, I have found that other customers will often chime in with ideas or suggestions, which can create a really wonderful community-centered feeling to the experience.

If you can’t find what’s on your list, ask

One of the things that makes shopping at a farmer’s market different from a grocery store is that they only will have items that are local and seasonal, which means that sometimes they won’t have exactly what you were looking for. Instead of throwing up your hands and heading to the nearest grocery store, though, try asking the vendor. They want to help you out and sometimes they’ll be able to suggest an alternative you could use.

Or, if you feel too shy to ask, you can use our food substitution guide to help you!

Be brave, experiment!

One my favorite ways to successfully shop at the farmer’s market is to be adventurous and explore new foods. So, every time I go to the farmer’s market I challenge myself to get one item that I have never had before or at least that I am not as comfortable cooking with. By doing this, I have discovered all kinds of wonderful ingredients: watermelon radishes, kiwi berries, and goat sausage are three that immediately come to mind.

Take your time

Especially at the beginning, one of the tricks that I think is really important in order to successfully shop at the farmer’s market is to take your time to learn the place. At least on your first few trips, try to view a trip to the farmer’s market as a fun activity rather than an errand. This way, you can relax, enjoy the experience, and get familiar with all that is available. Then, once you’ve gone a few times, it can become a quicker, more regular part of your weekly shopping routine.

kids eating vegetables

How to Engage Your Kids at the Farmer’s Market

Research shows that one way to get your kids to try new foods is to engage them in the selection and cooking of them. And going to a farmer’s market, with their vibrant colors and lively atmosphere, as a family excursion can be a great way to get your kids more involved with their food.

To make your journey to the farmer’s market with your kids super successful and fun, try using this scavenger hunt with them.

The Farmer’s Market Scavenger Hunt

Michelle Stern put together a scavenger hunt for parents, teachers or camp counselors to do with kids when they visit the farm markets and graciously agreed to let The Scramble share it our readers. I’ve adapted it a little to add things my kids always have enjoyed doing at farmer’s markets.

  1. Find a yellow fruit or vegetable. What is it?
  2. Locate a purple food with an interesting shape. What is it?
  3. Find a red food that is bigger than your fist. What is it?
  4. Search for a green food that you have not tasted before. What is it?
  5. Find a fruit or vegetable you have never seen before and ask the vendor what it is and what it tastes like.
  6. Find something that grows on a vine:
  7. Locate something that grows underground:
  8. Find something that grows on a tree:
  9. What are two examples of a “stone fruit?”
  10. Ask 3 vendors what time they woke up this morning…
    …and how long it took them to get here (time or distance)
  11. Find two stands that sell peaches. How do their prices compare? (For older kids: List 3 reasons why one might be more expensive than the other)

Do you shop at farmer’s markets? Do you have tips and tricks for how to successfully shop at the farmer’s market? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

If you want seasonal recipe inspiration, sign up for a free trial of The Scramble to see how simple seasonal eating can be!

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[…] more detailed tips and tricks, check out my post on how to make your trip to the farmer’s market a success. I also highly recommend bringing your kids to the farmer’s market with you. It can be a fun […]

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