Your local farmer's market is a great way to find local, healthy, and organic produce and other food products. However, farmer's markets can be expensive, and the quality of some produce may be lower than you'd expect. To get the most for your money at any farmer's market, plan to arrive early, speak to the vendors about the produce they're offering, inquire about “seconds” that may sell for discounted prices, and plan to buy produce in bulk.
Part 1 of 3:Planning Your Shopping
1Arrive and start shopping early. The best items of the day are often sold first, so to make sure that you have your pick of the produce, arrive early. Depending on the season and how much demand there is for their products, some vendors may sell out of their highest-quality produce quickly. Make sure that you're one of the first customers in line, and you'll be able to purchase what you please.
However, don't arrive excessively early. If you get there before the farmer's market even opens, you may slow down or distract the vendors who are trying to set up their stalls.
2Find out beforehand what's in season. It's worth your while to know which produce will be available during the season (and in the region) where you're shopping. This will allow you to plan ahead and have realistic expectations for the types of produce you will and will not be able to find at the market. Buying produce when it's in season will also save you money, since you won't be paying for produce that's been shipped in from another region.
For example, If you show up to a farmer's market in Colorado in July expecting oranges, you'll likely be met with disappointment.
In warmer regions like central and southern California, greens like leeks, spinach, sprouts, and lettuces will be in season year-round.
Gourds (including pumpkin and squash) and more hearty veggies like beans are typically in season in fall and winter.
3Walk through the whole market before making purchases. Rather than filling up your basket or cart at the first two or three stalls you visit, plan to walk through the full farmer's market before making purchases. This will allow you to compare the prices, quality, and quantity of produce vendors with similar offerings.
If you'll be buying any perishable or frozen items (e.g. raw meat), purchase this last so you can bring it directly home.
4Shop based on produce availability and price. Although many farmer's-market shoppers show up with a shopping list, you can save more money if you shop more spontaneously. Allow daily specials and discounts to guide your shopping. You may be able to find marked-down items that can substitute for what you'd hoped to find, or get ideas for new dishes by combining various types of available produce.
For example, if you had planned to buy romaine lettuce, but a vendor is offering spinach at a 50% discount, save money by purchasing the spinach.
Part 2 of 3:Speaking with Vendors
1Inquire about second-tier produce at discounted prices. If you're shopping on a budget and trying to save some money, ask vendors if they have any cosmetically damaged or misshapen produce for sale at a lower price. These second-tier products—typically called “seconds”—will taste the same, but are often kept out of sight so that the better-looking fruit will sell first.
Vendors may also be willing to throw in mildly bruised or scuffed up fruits for free if you ask.
2Ask vendors about their products. One major advantage of farmer's markets is that, unlike at supermarkets, you can speak directly with the people who grow your produce. Most vendors are more than happy to talk about their work and the produce they're selling, especially if you stop by at a time when there isn't a line. If you have any questions about the food, ask. Bring up things like:
Do any of the products contain GMOs?
Were any pesticides used on the produce?
Where, and under what conditions, were the products grown?
Are products organic and/or free-range?
3Ask about discounted prices at the end of the day. Although the highest-quality produce and goods will likely have sold out by the end of the day, farmers and other vendors may be more willing to off discounts or two-for-one deals. It's inconvenient for vendors to take the bulk of their good back home with them, so many will offer up to a 20% discount as the market's closing time approaches.
Keep in mind that certain farmer's markets may have rules that specifically prohibit the discounting of merchandise.
Avoid trying to haggle or negotiate with vendors. If they have discounted merchandise, they'll let you know.
Part 3 of 3:Shopping Efficiently
1Buy your produce in bulk. If you know you'll use a large amount of a specific type of produce—from tomatoes to lettuce to cherries—plan to buy them in bulk. This will allow you to save money, as vendors are typically willing to mark down bulk sales by as much as 15 or 30%. They may even offer a larger discount if you offer to become a weekly (or monthly) customer and buy in bulk frequently.
This brings an added benefit: you can take the entire case home with you. Produce is often delicate and easily damaged, and bringing produce home in the case it's sold in (often made of wood or cardboard) will prevent it from being damaged in transit.
2Bring your own bags and a cooler. Although vendors—or the market itself—may offer paper bags or tote bags, they'll almost certainly be for sale, not free. To save some money at the farmer's market, bring your own bags with you. Also bring a cooler with some ice in it, so that you can store fresh produce without fear of it wilting or spoiling in the sun.
3Opt for simpler produce, rather than following trends. Trendy or specialty food items that are popular at the moment—such as heirloom tomatoes and beans and shishito peppers—will be marked up and cost more than their more traditional counterparts. You can save money by purchasing simple produce, such as local tomatoes and green beans.