Ask Farm Aid | July 8, 2009

Do you have any tips for how to fit a farmers market into my busy life?

July 2009

Dear Hilde,

It’s the middle of summer and I have yet to make it to the farmers market. Each week seems to fly by with work and all the kids’ summer activities – before I know it the market day has passed! The few times I remembered to go last summer, I got overwhelmed, overspent and ended up with rotting food in the fridge. I don’t want to give up on becoming a farmers market shopper, but think I may need a little guidance. Do you have any tips for how to fit a farmers market into my busy life?

Molly P.
Olympia, WA

Dear Molly,

I completely relate! For whatever reason, it has been particularly difficult for me to get into the rhythm of farmers market shopping this year too. But have faith; with at least three months of farmers markets remaining in most regions, it is definitely not too late to acquire some market savvy and discipline. To help you out, I’ve pulled together five simple tips that take into account both convenience and finance. With a little research and preparation, you should be well on your way to becoming a farmers market regular in no time.

1. Know your options. There may be more than one easily accessible farmers market in your neighborhood, extending your choices for both when and where to shop. If you miss or have a conflict with the Monday market, for example, there might be a Wednesday option just around the corner. Check out these great online listings kept by USDA and Local Harvest to track down farmers markets near your home or work. Take time to write down their schedules and post the list somewhere obvious, like on the fridge or pantry door. Going early and late in the day both have their perks (best selection in the a.m., best deals in the p.m.) – but the point is to know your options so that regardless of what the week throws your way, you have some flexibility.

2. Make a list. In addition to jotting down a list of weekly staples and snacks, find some seasonal recipes that inspire you and keep track of the fresh ingredients needed. If you see something not on your list that looks too good to pass up, by all means grab it. After all, seasonal and local variety is one of the best perks of farmers market shopping. You can also ask the vendor for a sample and, if you like it, keep it in mind for the next time. But try to limit yourself to buying one or two unplanned items each trip to avoid a fridge full of forgotten-now-rotten produce.

3. Come equipped. There are a number of steps you can take ahead of time to make the trip more enjoyable and efficient. Wear comfy shoes and have a hat and sunscreen ready for sunny days, an umbrella for rain. Remember your list (see above) and ample cash (see below). Bring reusable bags and even a cooler if you won’t be home right away to store your fresh goods. I find it works well to keep all the essentials packed together in a cloth shopping bag in the front hall or closet – a convenient and visual way to remember the basics.

4. Create a budget. Two money scenarios can quickly frustrate any farmers market experience: 1) finding yourself rationing quarters as you try to stretch your last five dollar bill, or 2) coming home to realize you blew your whole week’s worth of grocery funds in one fell swoop. Try setting an upward limit of how much money you are able to spend each week. If you are low on cash, stop at the ATM on your way to the market and take out only as much as your budget allows. This will enable you to afford most of the items on your list without unintentionally overindulging.

5. Make it an outing. Farmers markets are a wonderful place to kick back, enjoy and learn a thing or two. A number of markets host cooking demonstrations, live musicians, children’s activities, and even farm animals, making them a fun and lively destination to take family, friends, dates–you name it. To top things off, farmers and local chefs are often a wealth of information for food, how it’s grown, delicious new recipes and nutritional tidbits. If you take time to take pleasure in the many offerings of your farmers market, food shopping will no longer feel like a chore.

My final piece of advice is to go easy on yourself. Maybe a visit to the farmers market once or twice a month is the most your schedule can handle. That’s perfectly OK. I think you will truly value whatever time you can find, regardless of how frequent. While farmers markets are a terrific way to support local agriculture, connect with your community and access some of the freshest food around, they don’t work for everybody and there are other great options for enjoying good food in your area while supporting family farmers. Subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture) may make the most sense for your personal situation, or shopping at a farm stand or grocery store that carries local produce (like Walker Claridge’s store, The Root Cellar, described in this month’s Farmer Heroes story). Many restaurants are now featuring local foods on their menu as well, adding to the possibilities for enjoying your region’s family farmed food throughout the growing season.

To find CSAs, restaurants and grocery stores selling family farmed food in your area, check out the resources on our Find Good Food page.

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