Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Shop at Your Farmers' Market in 7 Easy Steps

I've mentioned before what a huge fan I am of farmers' markets. I also volunteer at mine two or three Saturdays a month, and in talking with folks I've learned that people can be intimidated by the farmers' market with all of the assorted mounds of produce, baked goods and plants - let's face much selection can be overwhelming! Also, many shoppers are not used to having a vendor present while they look at the goods. I've spent some time observing the way people shop at the market and of course, I have plenty of experience shopping at my own farmers' market. Here are some tips:

1.) Bring cash. Set an amount that you are comfortable with each time you go and try to take only that amount. Most vendors don't take debit or credit (though some do), and also you will want to make sure that you are not spending more than you'd like each time you go.

2.) Bring a big reusable bag or tote with you - throw your wallet and keys in there so you're just carrying one bag and not multiple bags to keep track of.

3.) Go once or twice around the vendor circuit telling yourself that you aren't buying anything right away. This will give you a chance to see everything that is offered and giving you a mental list of what you want to buy before delving in.

4.) Buy refrigerated items like eggs, meats and cheese, and big items like plants last.

5.) If you are intending to buy bread, buy that first as the good ones tend to sell out quickly. And if you're intending to buy cheese, make that the first of your refrigerated purchases as the best flavors tend to sell out quickly.

6.) Don't be afraid to ask questions of the vendors. The vendors are there not only to sell their wares, but they love talking to customers and sharing their knowledge of the product. You don't have to buy from a vendor if you ask them a question - they realize that not everyone is going to buy each time! The plant vendors are good sources of explaining what you can do to help keep your plants alive (which is always helpful to those of us who's thumbs are not quite yet a lovely shade of green). Herb vendors can help you with recipes incorporating the herbs. These vendors are there because they love their product and want you to love it, too! Ask away!

Also, the market info table, or the market manager, is a good source to ask questions of what vendors are there each week.

7.) Early shoppers have benefits that later shoppers miss out on - the most popular items usually go quickly. However, if you're wanting to have a bit more of a social experience with bigger crowds of locals and music, arriving a little later or midway through the market hours is your best bet.

And here is a tip for vendors: Mark your items clearly with signage!...many shoppers may feel uncomfortable asking for the price of an item, or may not want to wait in line just to find out the price. If price info or names of items are not clearly marked, they may get frustrated and move on to the next vendor.

Check out the book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison - this is one of my all time favorites! Also, if you're interested in getting into the business of being a vendor or just fascinated by all things farmers' market, a good book to read is The New Farmers' Market: Farm-Fresh Ideas for Producers, Mangers & Communities by Vance Corum, Marcie Rosenzweig and Eric Gibson.

And there you have it!...7 easy steps to getting the most out of your local farmers' market (and a couple of good books, too). Enjoy shopping, reading and eating local!

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services
Kankakee Public Library


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