I’m not opposed to farmers markets. In fact, I’ve written numerous posts extolling the produce at farmers markets, explaining how you can find a market near you, and why you should patronize them. I appreciate both the experience of talking to farmers and the high quality food you can purchase at markets that screen their vendors to assure that they produce or make the goods they sell. But I often find that a trip to the farmers market empties my wallet quicker than any grocery run ever has.
In the past few weeks I’ve saved money using several of my own tips and wasted money because I neglected to follow another. Reflecting on my own, imperfect relationship with farmers’ markets, I realized it was time to remind all of us that our budget-conscious selves shouldn’t be left at the entrance when we enter a farmers market.
Tips on How to Avoid Wasting Money at Farmers Markets
Ask about fruit and vegetable “seconds” – Sometimes a farmer will put out a crate with seconds or “value” items, other times you’ll have to ask. Seconds are those that have a bruise or are in some way not in good enough shape for the farmer to charge full price. But as Valerie of Mock’s Greenhouse & Farm explained to me, the tomatoes she sold me from the “value” bin were just too small. Why pay for perfect or big enough to fetch a premium price if you’re going to cut a tomato up for guacamole or blend a pepper into gazpacho?
Beware of the urge to impulse buy – At most farmers markets there are items that I call the “candy rack.” Just like the candy that sits at a grocery checkout line, you stare at those goodies and your psyche says “must have”, for no reason other than they look fabulous. Check your wallet. If you have money to spare and deserve a treat, then fine. But otherwise, pass it by.
Don’t overbuy –I cannot even type that phrase without feeling guilty. Do as I say, not as I do on this one. I know all the stuff looks fabulous and the ripe peaches or tomatoes call out to you as you walk by – but what are you going to do with them and when? If you have good answers to those questions, go ahead and buy them. If not, you know you shouldn’t buy them now.
Don’t shop hungry – Hands down the most important rule to follow in getting ready to food shop. It’s especially true when going to a farmers market because everything looks so appetizing. Sure you can snack on samples, but will you be able to resist buying what you don’t need or can’t afford if you are starving as you wander from stall to stall?
Get the scoop by talking to vendors – Farmers market vendors have lots of knowledge, sometimes offer deals, and often have opinions. But in my experience, you (the buyer) have to start the conversation. Go ahead, kibbitz – they won’t bite and they’re generally very nice people. Yesterday I chatted with a vendor who sells specialty sausages frozen in large packages. He said that with a week’s notice (at a local Sunday market), he would make up a smaller portion for me. It’s the perfect way to try a couple of his tantalizing varieties without buying more than I want. Other vendors have told me when they’ll have large quantities of tomato seconds, how to store fruit, and which of their peaches they like best and why.
Shop around – At the farmers markets I visit, pricing often does not vary much from stand-to-stand, but that is not always the case. It’s worthwhile to scope out the market before deciding what to buy and from whom. Of course, you may develop a relationship with a particular vendor and that’s fine. But keep in mind that availability, quality, and price typically vary from week-to-week at each stand. You may not need to check every item; even a quick breeze through may help to identify lovely new items at a stand you never noticed before and good deals that weren’t there last week at a stand where you’ve been a regular.
What’s your favorite tip for farmers market shopping?