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Insider Shopping Tips for Farmer’s Markets 

Seasonal farmer’s markets are springing to life in towns across Michigan. While some cities enjoy year-round markets, smaller seasonal ones open in May as the early growing season kicks into gear. Markets serve as community gathering spots, but more than that, they offer a way for people to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other items while keeping their food footprint – and their money – close to home. Farmer’s markets offer a lush array of healthy foods while supporting local farmers, growers and businesspeople. To get the most out of a trip to the farmer’s market, it helps to follow some pro tips. 

What to bring

Sure, shoppers can rely on the sellers to supply them with a grocery-store style plastic bag, but savvy market fans know to come prepared:

  • Bring reusable and sturdy shopping bags. Keep fragile items like herbs and strawberries in their own bag, while heavy or bulky items like cabbage or carrots can be stashed in another bag. 
  • Buying items that need to stay cold? People who are not going directly home should bring a freezer block and a cooler to keep things fresh. Be sure to keep any meat purchased separate from fresh produce.
  • Cash and a credit card. Some vendors may accept credit or debit card payments. Others are cash only. 
  • Consider bringing a wagon or cart to the market to help organize purchases and transport them home or to a parked vehicle.

Many farmer’s markets are outdoors or semi-outdoors, which may make it tempting to want to bring a dog or pet along for the fun. Check the rules of the market first before bringing an animal on-site; some don’t allow dogs.

Take a lap

When arriving at the market, it’s a good idea to survey all the offerings first. Vendors will have fruits, vegetables and other wares piled up in colorful displays. By walking around, shoppers can see who has the best-looking items and prices. This keeps shoppers from buying something from one farmer and noticing a few minutes later that another vendor has the same thing, but at a better price and quality. 

Have a short list

It helps to come prepared with a short list of items to look for. This might depend on a family’s meal plan for the week or just some fruit they’ve been looking for to make a special recipe. Buy the needed items first.

Be flexible for what’s in season

Enjoying farmer’s markets are all about selecting produce at their peak ripeness and truly eating by the season. Let the growing calendar dictate what goes into the market bag. This handy tool can help decipher which produce is in-season and will taste their best.

Look for deals

Most larger farmer’s markets vendors offer deals in bulk. 

  • Apples, pickle-sized cucumbers and juicy tomatoes are offered by the bushel during canning season.
  • Cardboard boxes full of blueberries are ripe for freezing. 
  • Some growers offer deals allowing shoppers to pick three or four different items for a set price.

Talk to the growers

One of the best parts of shopping at a farmer’s market is talking to the growers. They will tell you which fruits are best eaten now, and which should rest on the counter for a day or two. Growers can educate shoppers about the tastes of different varieties of fruits and vegetables, and how to best prepare them. For example, a farmer can explain which of their apples are best for pies and which are better tucked in a lunchbox. 

Go beyond the fruits and veggies

Many farmer’s markets are a mix of everyday foods and specialty items. Look for the unusual and be open to trying new things:

  • Dried beans, lentils and peas
  • Farm-raised, free-range eggs are sold by the dozen
  • Some meat vendors offer organic, certified animal welfare approved or sustainably raised poultry and meat
  • Nurseries offer tiny herb plants or unusual flowers

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more health tips and information, visit AHealthierMichigan.org 

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