One of my favorite things to do with my mom on Saturday mornings was to head downtown to the farmer’s market and shop for produce. I love to social aspect of it, the people watching, the beautifully lined vegetables, the music.
Isn’t it amazing how the things you absolutely dreaded as a child have become some of your favorite activities as an adult? I can picture my sister rolling her eyes right now, making some reference to how much I’m turning into our mom, but I’m ok with that. My mom is a subject matter expert when it comes to farmer’s markets. She knows all the vendors. She knows what’s in season and what’s priced appropriately. Not that the price matters. I’ve never seen someone throw around cash more than she does on your average Saturday morning. But when your cash is supporting local business, it’s worth it. Bottom line is if you need a crash course in farmer’s market strategy, consider letting my mom accompany you to your local farmer’s market. You’ll be a pro in no time.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my mom with me when I visited the downtown Sarasota Farmer’s Market on Saturday, but based on her lessons and my experience, here are my five tips to make the most of your local farmer’s market:
Step 1. Survey the lot before you buy. Chances are there are at least 2-3 stands with the produce you are looking for. See what’s out there before you commit to anything. Most farmer’s markets take cash so you don’t want to spend it all at the cookie bar when you really came for peaches and cucumbers. Not that you shouldn’t spend a little at the cookie bar because well, it’s a cookie bar.
Step 2. Consider what’s in season and stick with that. We are very fortunate to be living in a place where fruits and vegetables that might not regularly be in season are. Find out what was recently harvested in your area and plan your meals around those foods. It makes the seasons fun!
Step 3. Talk to people. Farmer’s markets don’t work the same way grocery stores do. Show up with your headphones on and your head down and you may lose out on a great experience. Not only did I meet two people from Chicago and one from Green Bay Wisconsin on Saturday morning, but I got a free dinner and several local recommendations for restaurants in our new area. I was also asked if I was getting married in Siesta Key that afternoon by an older gentleman who was absolutely convinced I looked like the bride. Don’t get me wrong, I hear it’s a great location for a wedding but any bride who is shopping hydrangeas solo at 10 a.m. the morning of her wedding is straight up crazy.
Step 4. Bring cash. This should probably be step 1 but let my mother be an example for you to load your pockets and purse with small bills before heading to your farmer’s market. It’s a busy place so the key is to make the transaction as quick as possible. No one wants to see your AMEX or $100 bill when all you have is a pint of tomatoes in your hand.
Step 5. Slow down. Farmer’s markets offer a rare chance to take a break from technology and talk to people. For once you not only have the chance to find out where your food came from, but to talk to the person or business owner and learn a little about their story as well. And it doesn’t just stop at food. These markets are a great chance to hear good music and survey the local arts.
Do me a favor and go check out your local farmer’s market this spring. Most should be opening soon if they aren’t already. Order a cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade and be sure to say hello to my mom when you see her.