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How do you shop at farmers markets?

I'm curious to hear how different people shop at their farmers markets, especially the larger ones with several different options for the same type of produce.

Some questions, but feel free to discuss anything about how you shop at farmers markets:

- Do you have a favorite farm that you always go to because you trust them?
- Do you look around for the best price for each item you buy?
- If you find good produce, do you buy it regardless of price? Do you compare the quality with other vendors before buying?
- Do you engage in conversation with vendors? Ask about growing practices, cooking tips, etc.?
- How often do you shop at farmers markets vs. grocery stores?
- Do you go to more than one farmers market, or just the most convenient/closest one?

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  1. My local farmers' market is only on Saturday, so I look for a few things I can use and store for the week. I only cook for myself at this point, so stocking up on every great thing I see doesn't work for me.

    I peruse the whole place first (there are only about 25 purveyors) to see who has what and the prices, then go back to the places that fit what I want. I also know what is available at the grocery store and weigh those prices and quality against what I can see. I'm on a meager budget, so this is something I have to do.

    I love to chat with them and get their ideas, though it is so busy that I don't take up too much of their time.

    1. first, i skip over all the stalls that don't sell organic produce.
      good non-organic produce is pretty widely available in my city. good organic produce is much harder to come by.

      4 Replies
      1. re: westsidegal

        Do you buy from non-certified growers, or only USDA/CCOF certified?

        1. re: erichalias

          I will admit I never even thought about it...the farm is certified organic..
          http://countrysidefarmproducts.com/

        2. re: westsidegal

          OP, you can ask if the producer uses organic practices. Then, watch "In Organic We Trust" and see if you think "organic" is the be all, end all.

          1. re: monavano

            My market has many farmers who are not 'organic certified' but farm to an even higher standard. They are happy to talk about it, describe their process, and invite you to visit their farm. Unfortunately, 'organic certified' can be quite expensive for small farms. I shop mostly with smaller farmers.

        3. Half-awake, when I bother to wake up early enough to go.

          1. I like to go when it's busiest and roll the kids around in my double stroller after I park the Expedition in the fire lane. I try to tie up the vendors with never ending questions about where their stuff was grown, ask for samples whether they are offered or not, and try to haggle on the prices. If the kids start crying I tend to them right then, regardless of how many people are waiting behind me, and ask the vendor for something to give them, like a strawberry or piece of melon. When they throw it down I don't pick it up. Sometimes if I find something cheaper in another stall I try to get a refund. If I see someone I know I like to strike up a conversation right in the middle of the aisle, especially if they have a stroller too. When I get home I shove all my produce in the crisper drawer and then complain when it doesn't taste fresh five days later. I'm thinking about a CSA, anyone know one?

            7 Replies
            1. re: Samalicious

              I think I've seen you before at my market. Your Expedition took up the spot I wanted for my Suburban.

              Thanks for the chuckle!

              1. re: Samalicious

                Nah...the problem with a CSA is you won't get a chance to squeeze all the peaches and nectarines to find the perfect ones, let alone jam 'em up against your nose, the better to smell for ripeness. Plus, with a CSA, anything in your delivery that you drop on the ground/floor, well, forget about sending it back: it's YOURS. Who would want that??

                1. re: ricepad

                  At my CSA we get to actually pack and choose our own produce.. we are not an urban lazy people CSA. We always have items we can pick ourselves in the field, and we have "sweat equity" in the farm in that we have to work a certain number of hours per season to help out. So not all CSA's are the same.

                2. re: Samalicious

                  Please don't tell me you leave your poor DOG at home!?!

                  1. re: Samalicious

                    No, but you forgot to mention that you also go to the market with your giant hound on a long leash that cuts off entire lanes of pedestrian shoppers and wraps itself around their legs.

                    1. re: Samalicious

                      You forgot your dog, tied with a too-long-leash to your stroller!

                      1. re: Samalicious

                        i bet you cut in line too.

                      2. my "main" farmers market is the one closest to me and that is where I pick up my CSA basket. I try to get there before 8 AM as my CSA farmer gives us choices only available if you're there early. Once I've received my share, I decide what else I want to buy. I have favorite farmers that I tend to buy from and depending on how busy they are, I chat a bit. I like to ask for their favorite way to prepare X, stuff like that.

                        Regarding prices, I don't find much variation in the prices between various vendors but I do pay attention and use that as part of the selection criteria.

                        1. The one I go to is usually jam packed, you can barely move. It's complete chaos, so I don't really have time to chat with anyone, it's more like get it and go. I will try and do a once over of all the vendors then just grab what I need as soon as I can.

                          1. I’m usually shopping for specific items I can’t get at the local market. This would be items like squash blossoms, greens for a stir fry or peak of season tomatoes. A quick tour to see which stalls have what I’m looking for or, just looks good. Then back to look at quality and price. I refuse to over pay, regardless of how good it is. I don’t get into how it’s grown. If the conventionally grown tomatoes look\smell better than the Organic, that’s what I’m getting.

                            1. Like others, I walk the entire market checking availability,
                              price and quality. If I see something hard to find or in
                              limited quantity such as figs, I will pick them up on the first
                              pass but otherwise I will go back to pick up specific items.

                              I definitely talk to the farmers. At my regular markets, I've
                              gotten to know some of them and have interviewed a few for a column I wrote for the food section of a daily paper.

                              Try to get to at least one market each week but have been
                              to as many as four in one week. I'm also in a supermarket
                              several times a week but in market season I don't buy
                              produce there, except maybe bananas.

                              1. I go to the same vendors. they know me.. one even emails me when he has special cuts of meat and asks if he should bring them ( like a leg of lamb, wild boar) sometimes mine will even barter with me.. like once I got a dozen quail eggs for this bacon popcorn I make .. sometimes if a vendor doesn't have what I need or it looks a little sad he will send me to someone else "down the way'. It is a very friendly and easy experince. I go saturday moring, but I often go to "the farm" during the week when I need meat.

                                1. I prefer a few local Mom & Pop stands in my area. BEST Jersey tomatoes, grown right in they're garden. They get their watermelons and cantaloupes from "a guy" but they're ALWAYS sweet.

                                  Larger roadside stand will have signs up touting "local" tomatoes and sweet corn before the 4th?!? The tomatoes HAVE to be under plastic or in a hot house. And corn... it's only about 1' tall right now.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                    Am so jealous you can get Jersey tomatoes. I'm going to be in Jersey end of Sept. and hope to pick up 50 lbs. or so to can. I might make a day trip across the Del. Mem. bridge...
                                    Know any good producers that sell bulk seconds for canning near the bridge?

                                  2. I go to Jean-Talon market (montreal) once or twice a week, saturday morning before the hordes of Expedition driving , double strollers wielders subarnites come in. :-)

                                    I have a number of "preferred" sellers that I will look at and see what they have available.

                                    I don't buy expensive produces except for a few exceptions (tomatoes); I don't buy food I don't need; even if it looks very fresh or unusual. ( I hate to waste)

                                    In the summer, I try not to buy fruits and vegetables from the supermarkets (but I'm know to break that rule from time to time).

                                    I don't usually "engage" with the sellers, I don't want to take up their time too much.

                                    1. My Farmers Market routine is always the same ... I browse first so I know I'll get the best produce my money can buy. I shop at least once a week, I don't engage in any twaddle, and I'm gone in about thirty minutes. Summer sweet corn, kirby cukes, string beans, and lettuces are what I buy most.

                                      1. - Do you have a favorite farm that you always go to because you trust them?
                                        ***I have one that I make a point of stopping in at on a regular basis as they are not alway at the markets.

                                        - Do you look around for the best price for each item you buy?
                                        ***I will compare prices in the height of the season when everyones tomatoes, corn, etc looks good but I think the business work well together to keep prices reasonable and consistant

                                        - If you find good produce, do you buy it regardless of price?
                                        *** certain things I do like fiddleheads, ramps, certain tomatoes. Basically things where the season is short

                                        Do you compare the quality with other vendors before buying?
                                        *** absolutely! I alway take a preliminary spin around before picking a location.

                                        - Do you engage in conversation with vendors? Ask about growing practices, cooking tips, etc.?
                                        *** Another absolutely! Best part of a farmers market

                                        - How often do you shop at farmers markets vs. grocery stores?
                                        *** Well I am in New England so my access to year round farmers markets are limited. From June until late Sept I am there every week, slightly less than the grocery store.

                                        - Do you go to more than one farmers market, or just the most convenient/closest one?
                                        *** I mostly just go to one as it is close and great. Plus I have a CSA so I am pretty well covered.

                                        1. Every Tuesday afternoon there is a block long Farmers' Market three blocks from my house. I generally buy from the same vendors, but they are the furthest away so that means I walks down the nearside on my way so I know what others are selling at what price.

                                          1. Thanks all for the responses. It's interesting hearing everyone's habits. And funny how we all encounter Samalicious at our local farmers markets :P

                                            1. I've been an avid market goer for quite a while now. I go more in season, but do frequent the year round markets. I get a little twitchy when I don't go for 2 weeks or so!
                                              I engage the producers for questions and pleasantries. I do shop around for pricing, and the best thing to do is get there when the market is setting up. Scope out all the things you're interested in. This will help you strategize how to best spend your dollars.
                                              I will pay a premium for something very good, very rare, only comes in once a year. Morel mushrooms is an example, as well as EcoFriendly Farm proteins, because I believe in them and what they do, which is a hard thing to find.
                                              I go to many markets in season and am so lucky to be able to have so many options.

                                              1. I love my local farmer's markets! First place I stop is the stand of my favorite farmer, who is at least 90 years old and still has some of the best produce at the best prices. Thankfully, his daughter is continuing the business and helps him out. After i get a lot of my stuff from him, then I browse, check out what may be new or unusual etc.

                                                I am also lucky to have a great farm 2 miles from my home. I get fresh eggs from their chickens and a lot of great produce. Again, the owner is about 90+ years old, and his son has taken over the business, although the father can still be seen puttering with the chickens. Developers have been circling the place like vultures, but the family has held out. It is prime real estate and may be sold some day, but until then I blissfully enjoy all the bounty.

                                                I only grow herbs and flowers, because of these wonderful farms near me, but if that source dries up, I will get in the dirt and make a garden myself.

                                                1. My local farmers market is monthly and we go most months, shopping with regular vendors and, of course, trying out new folk.