There’s nothing quite like getting up early on a Saturday morning and heading to the farmers’ market with an empty tote bag and an open mind. While farmers’ markets may look a little different this year (think reduced capacity, temperature checks, and no free samples), they’re still operating in full swing.
If you’re operating on a tight budget, you may feel like you need to steer clear of farmers’ markets altogether. There are ways to shop markets for a lower price tag, but they do skew pricier than a regular supermarket. One great strategy to save money at the farmers’ market is to know what items are worth the extra dough and which you can skip.
With that in mind, these items are worth the farmers’ market splurge.
Use farmers’ markets for their primary purpose, which is buying produce. While the artisan jam and homemade pasta are enticing, you can probably find those items at a lower price elsewhere. Focus on local produce because your farmers’ market haul will almost always be higher quality than what you’d grab from the grocery store.
This is especially true when it comes to those items you truly love. For example, I spend most of the year waiting to get my hands on peak season tomatoes and stone fruits from the farmers’ market, so when the time comes, it’s absolutely worth the price. On the other hand, when it comes to produce you don’t really love to begin with, getting it from the farmers’ market probably won’t change your mind—so why spend you’re hard-earned cash on it?
Carbon intensive products
When it comes to items like meat and dairy, you’re looking at a higher carbon footprint regardless of where you shop. That said, you can minimize your impact by choosing local, ethically raised meat and dairy products. You’re more likely to find grass-fed and free range animal products at the farmers’ market than a standard supermarket.
Additionally, by shopping at the farmers’ market, you’re cutting out links in the supply chain and consequently ensuring greater sustainability standards. Reducing shipping emissions from shopping local is a major benefit in addition to being able to speak with the farmers. Ask the producer about their practices to ensure that you’re buying products that were raised ethically and sustainably.
What to skip
Before reaching for the first butternut squash of the season, think twice. In general, items that show up a little bit too early or too late for their peak season are going to be more expensive and not as good as if you buy peak season. Find out when your favorite items are at their peak and enjoy them for as long as they last. If you buy too much, consider canning, freezing, or dehydrating to extend shelf life.
How to save money at the farmers’ market
Just because you’ve chosen to accept the higher price tag and shop the farmers’ market doesn’t mean you can’t be economical. By being a savvy customer you can save some valuable dollars if you know what strategies to use.
Ask farmers if they have any “seconds” with them. Produce seconds are imperfect items that aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as what’s on display. Sometimes these will be out with the rest of the produce, but often farmers choose not to display them—even though they do have them for sale. You can usually score a major deal on these items because a lot of people don’t want to buy them and they’re perfectly fine for most cooking applications.
You may also be able to save some money by shopping towards the end of the day. Rather than packing up everything that didn’t sell and hauling it back with them, farmers may be inclined to give you a major discount before the market wraps and they have to pack up.