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…