Have you ever taken a bite of a tomato fresh off the vine? It’s delightfully delicious. I mean, nothing like any red sphere you’ve bought at the grocery store. It’s almost like a different fruit (yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit). When you grow your own garden, you get to enjoy the full flavors of truly ripe fruits and vegetables.
If gardening doesn’t fit in your schedule, however, your local farmers market is the next best thing! Unlike the grocery store, which ships unripe fruits and veggies so they are ripe by the time you buy them, your local farmers bring their freshly ripened fruit for you to peruse, sample, and take home to enjoy.
In Colorado, we are fortunate to have a climate that supports local agriculture and farmers who put in the hard work to grow unbelievably tasty food and livestock. If you’ve never been to your local farmers market, however, there are several things you should know before you head out to the grounds.
Plan your day
Check out the Colorado Farmers Market Association at https://cofarmersmarkets.org/ to find markets close to you and ask around for what they are like. Some are small, featuring your favorite local farmers and their enticing goods. Others have many farms represented, other local goods and services, and food trucks for locally prepared food fare. Knowing what they have will help you plan for lunch and give you an idea of the selection of produce, meats, and other goods you might find.
This will also help you decide if you want to take the kids or not. If your kids can handle a day of shopping and a couple of hours outdoors, they will love the farmers market! However, most farmers markets frown on bringing your pets. If it’s the first time you’ve been to a particular market, it’s best to leave your dog at home until you know they are welcome.
Know when to go – early, or late?
You’ll want to get to the market early if you are looking for the best selection of produce. Arriving within the first hour the market is open will give you a chance to see everything before the crowds pick it over.
However, the vendors want to sell their products and may discount what is left later in the day. If you’d like to find good deals on local, fresh produce, go to the market close to closing time.
Be sure to respect the hours posted for the market, however. Don’t arrive before opening and be sure you have enough time to shop before closing.
Bring cash in small bills
Even though credit card readers are showing up on cell phones everywhere, not all merchants are set up to take cards. Be sure to bring cash so you don’t miss out on something you love. Take small bills, too, to make things easier on yourself and the vendors.
Bring bags, a shopping cart, and a cooler if needed
Think ahead and bring your own shopping bags. Vendors might not have many if any. Also, if you will be purchasing a lot of produce, you might want to take a collapsible, portable shopping cart or wagon, like this awesome one at Amazon that also stores your water bottle for staying hydrated on those hot, Colorado days.
If you aren’t going home right away after your trip to the market, bring a cooler to keep your produce and other foodstuffs cool so they don’t go bad in the car.
Know what’s in season
You can’t expect the same variety and selection of fruits and vegetables that you would find in your grocery store. Farmers markets feature local, fresh produce, and you should know what produce you will find. Coloradoproduce.org has a fantastic calendar of local produce to help with this.
To list, or not to list
Should you take a shopping list with you? This one will depend on how you cook. Some experts suggest you don’t make a list – you never know what you will find at a farmers market, and you should use what you find to inspire your menu.
Some of us aren’t that creative, however. Other experts suggest you take a list with you so you know what to plan on eating. Whatever you buy, you should expect to prepare it within a few days because it is usually ripe when you buy it. If you do not plan to eat it right away, the vendor can help you pick produce that is less ripe and will last a little longer.
Budget in extras
Creating a menu and shopping list will help you stay on budget. If you know you need to stay within your grocery budget when shopping at the farmers market, then a list is essential to get what you need without going overboard.
But also remember that a trip to the farmers market is different than a trip to the grocery store. As I mentioned before, some markets have food trucks. Most of the markets I have been to also have local vendors sharing crafts, flowers, paintings, jewelry, jams and preserves, salsas, hand-blown glassware – and other things you’d never think of. It’s quite an experience to visit your neighbors and see the extraordinary things they do. You may find something you absolutely fall in love with – so be sure to consider that in your budget.
Once you know where your local shop is, you can plan your date with your farmers market. Gather your list, budget, cash, bags, and kids and have a fantastic time! And keep an eye out for our top tips to navigate the market while you’re there in the next few weeks!