Shopping at farmers markets is a trend that’s on the rise. According to a recent article in the National Journal, the number of U.S. farmers markets has nearly doubled in the last five years. And the news is great for all parties involved—the farmers, consumers and the planet. Shopping at a farmers market allows us to support the local economy, reduce our carbon footprint and eat what is in season where we live.
But for some, making the shift from regular trips to the supermarket, where you can find everything and anything, regardless of where it may have come from, any time of year, can be daunting. This is despite the fact that ordinary grocery shopping requires a lot more “homework”—checking labels for ingredients and origins and expiration dates on food.
For others, shopping at a farmers market might feel pricey. When you’re used to shopping at large franchise food warehouses and paying a low price for a ‘whole broiler chicken,’ not knowing where it was raised or under what conditions, it might feel like buying a pasture-raised hen selling for two or three times the price is a stretch, in terms of budget.
The message is certainly not that if cost is a concern, we’ve got no choice but to head back to the cheaper proteins and pre-made foods. Rather, the key is learning how to be budget conscious while doing your shopping.
Below are my top five tips for keeping costs down while visiting your local farmers market.
1. Shop at the end of the day.
At my local market, the vendors set up shop around 7 a.m. and leave no later than 1 p.m. (sooner if they’ve sold out of everything). A good tip I learned from a client is to wait until about noon to go shopping. Nine times out of 10 the vendors halve their prices or cut them even lower, simply because they’ve got to sell their food before they leave, or they risk wasting it.
2. Stick with the Paleo Diet.
If you steer clear of vendors selling freshly baked loaves of bread, muffins and cookies, and opt instead to focus on veggies and proteins that are part of the Paleo diet, you’re not only saving cash, you’re keeping your body on track to follow an alkaline, anti-inflammatory approach to eating.
3. Have a plan… but be flexible.
Say you’ve found an incredible recipe for wild king salmon, cooked on a cedar plank, served with baby arugula and black truffle oil. The local fish monger does in fact have wild king salmon, but it’s going for $24.99/pound—a bit out of range for you. But he’s also selling wild pacific halibut for a fraction of the price. Switching from one fish to another, and perhaps at in lieu of black truffle oil, you’re saving on cost and exercising culinary creativity at the same time.
4. Buy in bulk.
Did you notice the grass-fed bison truck has organ meats on special? Just a second before you wrinkle your nose and decide you won’t eat them! Have you ever eaten a hot dog, bologna or sausage? Guess what? You’ve eaten organ meats, then! Even if it’s not offal you’re encountering, many wild fish, grass fed meats and pasture-raised poultry can be portioned and frozen for use at a later date.
5. Incorporate adventure.
Don’t get stuck in a rut and only eat broccoli, kale and lettuce. Investigate what each vendor at the farmers market is selling and, if need be, let lower prices and a less-than-perfect appearance guide you. One farmer was selling what he felt were ugly, asymmetrical tomatoes at a lower price than the ones which happened to grow into perfectly round shaped versions. Personally, I like the character and uniqueness of the heirloom breeds of many a veggie.
6. Most importantly, make it fun and bring the family!
Get the kids involved and let them help you choose the most interesting items. Ask the vendor for a sample of a strange new veggie you’ve never tried and ask for preparation tips.
Not sure where to find a farmers market in your area? Check out the National Farmer’s Market Directory and take a trip tomorrow!