Aug 15, 2013

7 Tips for Making a Deal at the Farmers Market

Let's face it:  we all like to get a good deal.  Below are tips for helping you at the farmers market.

1.  Know your farmer.
Spend time talking with them - ask what they grow, about their families, other hobbies.  Buying groceries locally is so much more than going on Saturdays to buy food under a tent.  Knowing your farmers is my number one tip for shopping locally (for many reasons).  When you chat a while with the farmer, you could learn a thing or two about them like...

2. Buy the overstock.
Some farmers specialize in certain crops.  They may love eggplant so much they grew 5 rows of it this year and it did really well.  So well, in fact, eggplant is coming out of their ears and they don't bring 1/3 of what they could to the market.  The other 2/3 of the crop is wasting in the field.  Or, for a meat farmer they could tell you that they have certain kind of sausage special.  

3. Ask in advance.
Contact them a few days before market day (most are connected via Facebook or have contact info on a website).  You could say something like, "Hey I know you grow cucumbers.  I'd like to make 5 gallons of pickles.  Could we make a deal?"  Or, "I'm trying to get the most bang for my buck - what would you advise me to buy from you?  Could you bring some to the market on Saturday?"

4.  Buy in bulk.
While it helps to ask in advance, sometimes that is not always possible.  If on a spring market day you are inspired to make jam by all the juicy strawberries, ask if you could get a price break for buying several flats.

5. Go late to the market.
Just before the market closes see what's left in abundance.  Some of it could be slightly shriveled from being in the sun since 7am but would still make a yummy lunch or dinner... or perfect for lacto-fermenting.  Maybe the farmer who picked a ton of peaches needs to go to a wedding before going back to the farm and he's looking to liquidate.  Be sensitive though, about how you ask.  I wouldn't say, "Hey are you just gonna dump this stuff in the trash?  I'll take it off your hands."

6.  Ask about the ugly or damaged.
Let me let you in on a secret - sometimes the bruised and cracked is the most flavorful because it has been on the vine the longest, soaking up sunshine and nutrients from the soil.  The tomatoes above were not picked green then gassed to turn red (like the perfect tomatoes in the grocery.)  I would rather have ugly local tomatoes than perfect-looking-outside-mealy-on-the-inside grocery tomatoes.
Because farmers are people that take pride in their hard work, they often don't want to present produce that is bruised or bug-tasted.  If you are looking for a deal and are able to cut out a bad spot or two, ask about the discards.  Probably you will see a box on the ground with culled goods.  And quite honestly, if the bugs don't want the food, I don't want it either.

7.  Don't be stingy.
If you only buy the knock-offs or only ask about making a deal but never buy anything, you aren't endearing yourself to the salesman.  Be willing to pay asking price.  Our farmers are not getting rich.  The small, local producers of good healthy food do what they do because they love it and have found a way to survive on the income.  Bless them and their hard work by paying for their sweat equity.  My family has decided to pay more for fresh, local, nutrient dense food now with hopes that we will not be investing in pharmaceuticals later.

So what I have a missed?  What tips do you have for me?

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