A Guide to Farmers Market Shopping in 5 Easy Steps

As American farmer and social critic Wendell Berry once said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” In today’s society, where fast food restaurants sit on every corner and advertisements for microwaveable meals penetrate the airwaves, Barry’s words seem to have lost their luster. Identifying the true agricultural components of the food we consume each day has become an almost impossible feat.

Many remain ignorant of the behind-the-scenes life of the farms, factories and manufacturers that produce the items on their dinner plates. However, for those in search of greater consciousness about their food, consumers have turned to farmers markets, a niche industry that has surged in popularity in recent years.

Regardless of whether you live in year-round warm weather or the trees are just now blossoming with green, spring is the unofficial beginning to the farmers market season. Once empty parking lots and overcrowded sidewalks transform into must-stop destinations for locavores, passionate home cooks, and amateur gourmets. With new markets opening each weekend, here’s a convenient guide for how to master local outdoor shopping.

**5 Tips and Tricks For Farmers Market Shopping**

1. Don’t arrive empty handed. In order to reduce pollution, here in Washington D.C. there is a five cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used at the store. Regardless of whether your state has a similar law, consider investing in a few reusable bags. Inexpensive, durable, and now even chic, green bags are a convenient way to save money and be eco-friendly. Bring your bags on your next shopping trip and fill them up with all your favorite ingredients. Also consider buying a reusable freezer bag for keeping refrigerated products cool on the way home from the market.

2. Do your homework. Before you grab your bags and head out the door, take the time to research your market destination. Oftentimes, the markets will have websites that include information about their vendors and seasonal recipes created from fresh ingredients. You might also want to check for any special events going on nearby, which might impact the traffic near and crowds at the shopping site.

3. Get educated. Unlike at the grocery store, farmers markets allow customers to talk directly with the producers of their food. Strike up a conversation with the market’s butchers, learn about the cows producing your sample of cheese and discover the reason behind variations in eggs‘ colors. Speaking with the sellers’ also allows to learn about the sources of the products and their relevant nutritional value.

4. Browse before buying. At most markets there will be at least two vendors touting the same products. Before buying a pound of apples for $2.50 only to discover another table selling them for $2, browse through the entire market before deciding which products to purchase. When you know that one vendor is selling a product for less than one of your favorites, you might be able to haggle with the vendors for a lower price. Just don’t get your hopes up too much. Since some sellers travel to markets, the cost of transportation is likely figured in the price of their products, therefore putting them at a loss if they were to negotiate.

5. Arrive hungry. Although it is recommended that you do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, shopping at the farmers market is an exception. With most vendors offering samples of their creamy cheese, crisp apples, and crusty bread, come to the market ready to eat. Taking a free bite from the vendors not only satisfies a growling stomach, but it also allows you to get a taste for the vendor’s quality and then decide, making comparison shopping even more fun.

Bethany Imondi, a junior studying Government and English at Georgetown University, is eager for homework to cease so she can spend her Sundays strolling the local markets in search of the ripest tomato and the crustiest bread. Read more…

Originally posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012

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