Food Shop the Farmers Market Like a Regular

by Cameron Linville | September 19, 2018

You've pledged to eat local, cook "in season," buy organic when possible and learn about where your food comes from. Great! But where to begin?

Fortunately, there is a convenient destination for healthier and more responsible eating: your local farmers market. It's no surprise that with the movement to be more mindful of what and how we eat gaining momentum, farmers markets are likewise on the rise. Currently, there are over 8,500 farmers markets in the US, compared to 1,755 in 1994.

Not just for special, seasonal occasions, either, farmers markets are becoming a more popular option for everyday eating, with benefits that extend beyond shopping and cooking.

The benefits of farmers markets

Connections may start between farmers and consumers, but they reach the larger community, too. Through farmers markets, growers receive more money per goods sold, consumers get direct access to the freshest ingredients from their surrounding area, and the farms and markets provide jobs within the local community.

Cultivating these relationships can be mutually beneficial for all involved. The growers at Forks Farm of Orangeville, PA, believe the biggest benefit of being a part of a farmers market is that they are able to establish a community that supports sustainability and, most importantly, supports each other.

More earnings for farmers

On average, American farmers only receive about 15 cents per dollar on their food sold in grocery stores, whereas they can receive up to 90 cents per dollar selling direct to consumers at a farmers market. The green market model provides an opportunity for farmers to earn more from their crops — but the buck doesn't stop there. Shoppers can often save, too, by buying in bulk or by purchasing ripe produce priced to move. 

Fewer food-miles

Supporting a farmers market is easy on the wallet and the environment. Not only are you eating more locally, but you're also helping lower your community’s carbon footprint. On average, food may travel more than 1,200 miles before reaching the shelves of your local grocery store. That means you may not be eating food at its peak freshness and nutrient content (it can take seven to 14 days for produce to reach the shelves for purchase), and all that travel adds to the food's carbon footprint. However, more than 85% of vendors at farmers markets travel fewer than 50 miles to sell their products, with more than half traveling less than just 10 miles. Talk about local.

The health boon can't be underestimated. Farmers markets can encourage healthy eating habits thanks to shoppers' easy access to fruits, vegetables and ingredients that undergo less processing. Many markets include vendors with fresh local seafood, meats, coffee, cheese, baked goods, flowers and home goods (think essential oils, candles, yarn). And, the best part? Many sellers offer samples, so you can snack on a Jonagold and a Fuji to truly compare apples to apples.

hand painted sign that says grown not flown

Navigating the farmers market 

Before you grab your reusable tote bag and fill up on the seasonal bounty, check out these insider tips.

Find your market. You're probably closer to one than you may think. Enter your Zip code into a database such as the USDA's National Farmers Market Directory to locate markets near you.

Come prepared. Similar to any grocery shopping trip, make sure you have a list of general items that you need for the week. Not only will this help minimize food waste, but it will also save you money.

Do your research. Take a look at which stands are at your local market; do some research on their farming techniques and see which ones accept credit cards. If eating only organic produce or cage-free chicken products is important to you, make sure to mark which stands fit that criteria before you head to the market.

Time it right. Go early in the morning to get the freshest produce – or later in the day to potentially get deals before stalls close. For instance, Chris Krivanek, a crew member at the Keith's Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, says "it really depends on what we have left at the end of the day. If there are a ton of lettuces left, we'll do a deal on lettuce." Also, when picking produce, check for bruises, indents or other imperfections. Which is not to say that these shouldn’t be eaten, but you also may be able to negotiate a discounted price.

fresh produce under string lights

Shop what's in season. The majority of the market’s produce will be seasonal items, but chat with your farmers about what they recommend for the time of year. This will ensure that you're eating foods at their peak — which is the most beneficial for your health. The favorite season of farmer Todd Hopkins from Forks Farms? "We love fall because there's such a bounty of fresh, local produce and such beautiful colors of the pumpkins, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, beets. It's also when most farmers are harvesting their animals," says Hopkins.

Try something new. Make it a goal to try something that you wouldn’t typically buy. Ask the grower for cooking or serving suggestions. Who knows, you may find your favorite new food.

Befriend the farmers. Ask growers about their specific farming practices: Are they organic? Do they use antibiotics or hormones with their animals? Do they spray pesticides? Get to know what they recommend or think their farm produces best. This also allows you to feel more connected with the food you are eating since you will have a personal relationship with the person growing it. Krivanek encourages all farmers market goers to ask a ton of questions.

To take it one step further, Hopkins says, "It's even better if you're able to go and visit their farm, see how they grow, make sure they are farming the way they advertise and that you genuinely feel good about what you're supporting.”

Ask about CSA memberships. Can't always get to a farmers market? Ask at the stands about a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership, which allows you to essentially subscribe to a farm (or group of farms) and receive a share of their in-season harvest.

Chat with your farmers about what they recommend for the time of year.
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Top of the crop

Curious about where you can get shopping? Here are five notable farmers markets around the country.

The Original Farmers Market, Los Angeles CA. In operation for 80-plus years, L.A.'s quintessential farmers market has earned the "Original" in its name. It is open seven days a week and features two beer and wine bars.

Union Square Greenmarket, Manhattan, NY. Located in one of New York's greatest public spaces, this market is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays year-round and can see up to 60,000 shoppers in one day.

Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA. Open 363 days a year. Also, it's not entirely outdoors like most markets. Fresh seafood lovers are spoiled by its four fish markets.

Charleston Farmers Market, Charleston, SC. Offers live entertainment for you to dance while you shop from over 100-plus local vendors. Don't forget to stock up on their famous local peaches when in season.

Green City Market, Chicago, IL. Accepts cash assistance and food stamp benefit programs providing affordable options for everyone. Because this market is open year-round and moves indoors from November to May, you are even able to enjoy its vendors during the cold Chicago winters.

Cameron Linville

has a passion for all things food. Forbes called Linville, who blogs as the Freckled Foodie, one of the “five entrepreneurs changing New York’s wellness scene.”