How to Save Money at the Farmer’s Market

It sounds terrible to think about scrimping at the farmer’s market, but I think some people avoid going because they consider the farmer’s market to be expensive. I never went to the farmer’s market regularly until I started blogging about school lunch, which raised my awareness about food in general. I might have gone twice a season, but I usually just bought flowers and maybe a little fruit. Weirdly, I thought that it was easier to just go to my grocery store and get what I wanted all in one spot. I have learned that the farmer’s market and the grocery store are not equivalent. Now I know that taste and freshness are sacrificed at the grocery store. If you make it to the farmer’s market most weekends even if it’s a bit of a drive, I think it’s worth it in so many ways. I’m not going to enumerate why because we already know the reasons, but here’s how to save some money when shopping at the farmer’s market:

1) Don’t buy peaches from the first vendor you encounter — Even though you may end up making friends with “the peach guy,” walk the entire market before spending a cent. Who is selling what? How does the produce look? Some vendors are better than others and you may spot a deal at the last stand.

2) Bring reusable bags — I bring two large Trader Joe’s bags and when they are full, I am done. I easily overfill them after spending $40 in cash.

3) Carry a fixed amount of “Market Cash” and spend no more — Some stands are now taking credit, but I’m a firm believer in using cash (and I know I should do it at traditional grocery stores, too). Every Friday I take out $40 in cash from the ATM and put it in my wallet. It is dedicated to market spending. Somedays I wish I had more money, but frankly we can’t eat any more fruits and veggies on a weekly basis.

4) Take your kid with you — In any other shopping setting having your kid(s) with you can be a big hassle. Personally, I find that having Charlie by my side at the market keeps me on task. I probably would stand around a lot more if I didn’t have my little guy to worry about. Many farmer’s markets offer kid-friendly activities from face painting to simple games to a plain old playground nearby. Your child will help you prioritize what produce you want because he/she will want to keep moving. Hopefully, your kids will be excited by all the food available. Last weekend when I left the farmer’s market with my son, I asked him what his favorite part was. He replied, “The cheese.” (I bought some amazing hard goat cheese from a cheese stand and we both enjoyed it.)

5) Resist the pull of the specialty food stands — If money is a big factor in why you don’t frequent the farmer’s market, avoid the honey, cheese, breads, jams, nut or (god forbid) the kettle corn stands. I buy cheese maybe every other weekend, a nice jam two or three times a season, and honey a couple times a summer. I stock up on my honey though — once you have eaten local honey, you can’t go back to store-bought (In fact, store-bought honey is often from China, is laced with antibiotics or heavy metals, and might not even be honey at all). If I stopped by the specialty foods stands every week, I would spend more money at the farmer’s market. Choose one to visit each week or skip them all together to focus on the much cheaper produce ($1 per eggplant? Yes, please).

6) Subscribe to your favorite market’s email newsletter — Many markets put together a weekly email newsletter showcasing their vendors, like a weekly featured vendor, activities for kids, a chef or restaurant demonstration occurring at the market, or just a simple list of the seasonal produce available at the Saturday market, etc. The place to find these newsletter sign-ups is at the volunteer-staffed information booth. If your favorite market does not have a newsletter, many farmer’s markets also have a webpage with a list of participating farm vendors. I get a weekly newsletter every Wednesday, which helps me plan my Saturday morning.

I hope that you have learned that shopping at the farmer’s market does not have to be financially draining. In fact, I find the market to be invigorating and even fun. I’m always disappointed when October rolls around and markets are over. I believe it’s money well spent.

Next week: My farmer’s market purchases in pictures…

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8 Responses to How to Save Money at the Farmer’s Market

  1. Lindsay August 15, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    I absolutely agree with #1. We like to walk around to see who has the best sales. On one trip I found 12 pickling cucumbers for $1. That was a steal. Some of the other stands were selling them 4 for $1. I don’t mind if my vegetables are a little ugly. They taste the same after we chop them up!

  2. Lee August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Yes, good tips– especially the one about setting a budget. Also, sometimes I go to the market when it’s ending. Some vendors will cut their prices so they don’t have to pack up the onions/kale/ last 3 lbs of berries. Other than that, I never haggle– family farmers have it hard enough without me trying to shave their tiny profit margins.

  3. Alison August 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    If it’s a smallish market and you go regularly and buy often from the same vendor, they will often literally toss in extras. Last time I bought tomatoes and told the vendor to keep the fifteen cents in change, she grabbed another tomato and tossed it in my bag. Others will round down the price if they know you’re a good customer, or give you that last pint of figs that’s going to go bad anyway.

  4. Tracey August 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I have also found that what the farmer calls “seconds” is suitable to me. I get six ears of white Jersey corn for $1! Six smaller tomatoes for $1. Can’t beat that.

  5. Bex August 16, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Great tips. I like to visit the Farmer’s market every week to two weeks as well.

    Our market is small and there is one huge stand that is obviously a reseller – buying produce from the food terminal (wholesale) and reselling it. AVOID!

    I try to buy from the vendors that are small and have a banner that tells me what farm they are from and where the farm is.

  6. jums August 16, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Compared to the CSA I did last year, visiting the farmer’s market twice a week is like a party! Imagine having CHOICES! Wheee! Sweet cherry tomatoes were like gold nuggets at the CSA, they were so dearly rationed, but now we buy them a quart at a time, sometimes more. On the flip side, the liberation of not having to fit 8 squashes and 9 heads of lettuce into our weekly menu is thrilling!

    The cash limit is a good idea. I was getting killed by the baked goods lady until I decided to stick to produce, which keeps it to about $20 a visit. (Also helps keep my winter layer from forming early, curse those danishes!)

    Definitely chat up the vendors of the produce you like, and if you are a regular, your loyalty is often rewarded with lowball pricing or generous bag-filling.

  7. Anne August 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Thanks for writing about farmer’s markets. People unfairly assume that the prices are always higher. That’s just not the case. The value is better, all things considered, than at the average grocery store. The last time I was there, the “clearance” bin of veggies like squash and cucumbers for $1/pound was much better quality than first-run stuff at the grocery. I like to give the kids $5 each to spend and consider it entertainment or education — they make really good choices and get some great snacks for themselves.

  8. Nicole August 29, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    It’s sad that people think the farmer’s market is more expensive! It really shocks me each week to see how much less I spend there on fresh produce than the grocery store! Thanks for the tips.

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