How to shop like a pro at the Farmers’ Market

This Saturday’s Holiday Farmers’ Market is going to be very very awesome. There will be about 25 vendors there, selling everything from cheese to pies to honey to milk, a lot of meats and a lot more vegetables. With all that in mind, here are 10 tips for Saturday’s market:

  1. Come with an open mind. I often arrive at a farmers’ market hoping to find a particular ingredient, and when I do, I feel blessed. This is not something you can count on when it comes to vegetables in particular. Recent cold snaps have killed a lot of tender greens, deer eat crops, and nature happens. That said, what is at the market is more than pleasantly surprising. Amazingly buttery tokyo turnips alongside heirloom varieties of pumpkins and squash, winter greens, and more.
  2. Be prepared to stock up. Our next Holiday Farmers’ Market is a month away – December 22nd. Between now and then, lots of food will last handsomely. Carrots store very well for weeks in the fridge; potatoes, squash, and onions need only a cool-ish space (potatoes in the dark, other things are ok out of direct sun). You can fill your freezer with locally raised meat, which means providing your family with a healthier, more humane product that you can feel safe serving.
  3. Bring plenty of cash. This goes hand in hand with stocking up, but even if you aren’t stocking up you might surprise yourself. In addition to food for yourself, you may wish to buy a pie for a neighbor, or a jar of maple syrup or honey as a gift for your kid’s teacher. Some foods naturally add up, like big, delicious turkeys.
  4. Bring your checkbook. While farmers and food producers usually cannot accept credit or debit cards, almost every one does accept checks. This is not to say the food at the farmers’ market is very expensive, often it is less expensive than supermarket food. But the credit card back up isn’t there, so give yourself the checkbook as a back up.
  5. Bring bags. Sturdy bags, and plenty of them. Those very inexpensive woven bags you see everywhere these days are awesome because they have flat bottoms, meaning you can get a lot of stuff in there without it crushing everything else. All the vendors will have plastic shopping bags, but a. it is hard to carry a lot of those and b. less plastic = better. I do a 1, 2 combo and bring a bunch of grocery store plastic bags into which I pile anything loose that needs to be weighed. That way, onto the scale goes my already pre-used plastic bag instead of a new one, and then it can quickly and simply go into my bigger totes.
  6. Bring a cooler. Or two. Since meat is so easy to stock up on (it is all pre-frozen because of the nature of small farms and small processing facilities in New England), I will be making certain I get my share. But there will also be plenty of delicious cheese from Silvery Moon Creamery – cheddar, cheddar curd, maybe some mozzarella, Brie and Camembert, and much more as well as fresh Jersey milk from Brookford Farm. Frozen meat turns into the ice cubes for the milk and cheese, et voila!
  7. Take trips to the car. The foods of fall can be heavy. Potatoes, onions, and squashes, frozen cuts of meat, jars of honey. Parking is very nearby and there is no giant hill! You can make as many trips to the car to drop off heavy things as you want.
  8. Give yourself time to scope everything out. This is a big market! There is a lot to see and a lot to buy. Very special and particularly coveted things should be snapped up on sight, but allow yourself time to make sure you didn’t miss anything on the first pass.
  9. Give yourself time to relax. We have live music, you might run into friends to chat with, and most especially exciting to me, student chef demonstrators from the McIntosh Atlantic Culinary Academy showing us how to prepare a variety of local foods such as Tokyo turnips from Wake Robin Farm and a French heirloom pumpkin from Meadow’s Mirth Farm. So grab a hot drink, and stick around for awhile.
  10. Give yourself a pat on the back. Yes, -you- know the food at farmers’ markets is more delicious, more flavorful, and much much fresher, so if those are the only reasons you shop at farmers’ markets that’s more than ok. But buying local food is also a political act, an environmental statement, and a social contract – it’s saying that you care about your neighbors, your community, the health of your family and the environment alike. You are doing great things when you shop at farmers’ markets, take credit for it!

For directions, a list of vendors, and a list of products, visit Seacoast Eat Local’s Holiday Farmers’ Market webpage.

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