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How to Shop at the Farmers' Market How to Shop at the Farmers' Market

How to Shop at the Farmers' Market

by Sarah Engler, Matt Chase
March 12, 2013

This is the third post in the GOOD Guide to Healthy Living and Eating, brought to you by GOOD with support from Naked Juice. Naked Juice drinks are made with one pound of all-natural fruit and veggies in every bottle with added boosts such as Vitamin B12, whey protein, and grape seed extract to help get you through a busy day.

We all know that buying—and eating—more fresh fruits and veggies is great. But when these foods come from the farmers’ market, you earn even more points in the health bank. Here’s the thing: harvested produce loses nutrients fairly quickly and typically travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to your grocery store. However, crops from nearby acreage might have been picked within a few hours of when you purchase it. “Plus, they just taste better,” says Sara Forte, Los Angeles-based author of the Sprouted Kitchen cookbook and blog. “The greens tend to be crisper and the fruit is juicier.” And if that’s not enough, remember that giving your dollars to local providers also boosts the health of your community. So grab your tote, hit the stands, and get the most out of your market with these tips.

Start With a Game Plan

Impulse food buys often lead to uneaten piles of squishy fruit and wilting vegetables. Plot out ahead of time what types of ingredients you’ll need based on the number of meals you’ll be able to cook that week. And, you’ve probably heard it before, but never shop on an empty stomach.

Go Early

Not only will you score the best heirloom tomatoes, you’ll also avoid the later crowds who come mostly to linger over samples, says Forte.

Take a Walk-Through First

Compare the quality and prices of stands selling the same product before pulling out your wallet. See if the arrival of a fleeting seasonal ingredient, like ramps or squash blossoms, changes your game plan. And, of course, leave your credit card and checks at home. You’ll need to make sure you have enough cash on hand to get everything you want.

Talk to the Farmers

Don’t be embarassed to ask questions. Ask food purveyors about their growing methods and which crops they think are most stellar that week. Learn about new types of produce, how to pick the best tasting ones, and get recommendations on how to prepare them.

Think About Versatility

To make your dollars go farther, skip the pickled delicacies and fancy jams and stick to the basics. Forte always zeroes in on big heads of lettuce, which she can use multiples ways for salads or wraps, as well as staples like onions and garlic.

Seek Out Items With a Short Shelf Life

Certain foods taste so much better when they have more time to ripen on a tree or vine instead of being plucked early and shipped in a crate, says Forte. “I would absolutely go for tomatoes, strawberries, and melons at the farmers’ market versus the grocery store any day,” she says.

Look for Deals

It’s true that it often costs more to buy ingredients from Farmer Bob than a big-box discount grocer, but there are still a few steals to be had! An example Forte gives is herbs. “They’re usually 50 cents a bundle as opposed to $3 a package from the grocery store,” she says. And, if you’re willing to can or freeze, buy in bulk, a farmer will likely cut you a discount for a whole bushel of apples or a box of blueberries.

Illustration by Matt Chase

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