I would be remiss not to mention that this week, August second through the eighth, is National Farmer’s Market week. Declared by Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, National Farmer’s Market week has been giving growers and local food junkies something — or some time, rather — to celebrate since it was originally recognized by the USDA in 2000.
I personally celebrated by plunking down just over twenty dollars at our local market on ten pounds of blueberries and five more of green beans. The green beans — aside from those that barely made it home before being eaten straight from the bag by my daughters — now reside in my freezer, a reminder that a long and cold winter is quickly approaching us here. And the blueberries, you ask. As I type this the blueberries are gracing every part of my kitchen. Three nine by thirteen trays are covered with them in the freezer, two trays of my food dehydrator are graced with their pureed goodness hoping to become tasty fruit leather by tomorrow morning, two more trays are dehydrating whole berries for trail mixes and the refrigerator shelves are covered in five more pints awaiting distribution to family, friends, and yes, my morning yogurt.
These days our market is like our second home. But I also realize not everyone has such an intimate relationship with their local growers and remember the feeling of intimidation and sheer confusion the first time I stepped foot in a city market. So, in honor of National Farmer’s Market week, I’d like to offer a few tips for successfully shopping a farmer’s market. If you’re a newbie on the handmade and homegrown scenes I hope they’re of help. If you’re an old pro, consider sharing your tips in the comments.
1. Bring a bag. Or if you’re a heavy shopper like me a few bags, a wagon, and a helper for when your arms get tired. In fact, consider bringing containers and small bags in addition to your bigger bags. These will help you corral the five peaches, three carrots, loaf of french bread, block of goat cheese, and pint of blueberries you go home with, rather than just tossing them all together and having to sort them out later.
2. Spend Time If it’s your first visit, or even if it’s not, don’t rush. Go early and plan to spend a few hours browsing the offerings. You may be surprised to uncover more than just tomatoes and cucumbers await. Plus, there’s nothing better than being surrounded by fresh, local produce and soaked in morning sun.
3. Be Friendly Make friends with the vendors. Ask them about their products. Most are happy to answer your questions and excited to get to know the people whose homes their produce will be consumed in.
4. Seek Out Deals If you’re a repeat customer and not looking for the morning experience, consider going at the end of the day. Near closing time many vendors will mark their goods down for quicker sale. It’s better they go home with someone who will eat them than have to be carted back to the farm and potentially go to waste, after all.
5. Above all have fun! Shopping for groceries at the Farmer’s Market isn’t the grocery shopping we’re used to; the grocery shopping we dread. There are no flourescent lights poorly lighting the aisle, no wilting over-priced lettuce, and for the most part no surly cart-wielding consumers. Enjoy the moment, your fellows shoppers will be doing the same.