10 Best Money Saving Steps At The Farmers Market
I’ve been asked on several occasions for insider tips on money-saving gourmet food shopping. There are many answers. I always recommend Trader Joe’s for pantry basics. An herb garden is a wonderful and inexpensive way to always have fresh herbs on hand. A CSA box split between friends can be an affordable way to access fresh, locally-grown produce. But for my money (and time), nothing beats a friendly-vendor-live-music-filled, visit to my local farmers market.
There is a belief shared by many that shopping at a farmers market is more expensive than shopping at a regular grocery store, but I have found that with just a little bit of thought and planning, you can find great deals on fresh, often organic goods, all while supporting your local community and having a heck of a lot of fun. Read on for ten ways to makes farmers market shopping fun, enjoyable and affordable.
Make a shopping list before you go.
We’ve all been there. It starts with gorgeous peaches. You have to have some. And oh! That corn! It’s never been sweeter! You’ll take three ears. No, better make it four. Oh, and don’t forget the tomatoes, local honey, herb-rolled chevre, heirloom beans, pasture-raised eggs and tamari almonds. Oh, and four bunches of kale (you’ve been meaning to eat more kale!). While this bounty is all well and good, most of it is highly perishable and somewhat expensive. It’s only worth buying if you’re really going to eat it all. Making a shopping list of what you really need before you go (and sticking to it as you shop) is a good way to prevent overbuying.
Bring an exact amount of cash with you, and don’t spend beyond it.
I call this “playing Monopoly,” and it’s actually a great tactic for many different shopping excursions. There’s something about the feeling of cold, hard cash exiting your wallet as you hand it over in exchange for your purchases that puts me more in touch with the reality of spending than handing over my credit card. Since most vendors at farmers markets only take cash anyway, this is a great way to put this tactic to use.
Do a walk-through before you buy.
Most farmers markets have multiple vendors selling the same thing, so it makes good sense to see what’s out there before you hand over your money. It’s easy to get swept up in the gorgeousness of the produce in the first stall you visit, but since farmers are bringing their freshest produce to sell, chances are good that there is much gorgeousness to choose from. You wouldn’t marry the first person who asked you out, would you? Shop around before you commit.
Bring your own bags.
OK, obviously you do this already (if you don’t, wake up and smell the Envirosax), but beyond big reusable grocery bags, save and reuse plastic produce bags, since many vendors now charge $0.25 and up for new ones.
Show up late.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out: in my experience, showing up at my farmers market during its final hour has many benefits. First of all, the crowd has begun to clear out, so there is less of a wait at vendors’ stalls and cruising the streets is freer. More importantly, most vendors are eager to get rid of their goods and so will either lower their starting prices, or be willing to bargain. Two weeks ago I bought 2 generously-filled cartons of figs for $3 (previously $4/carton) because I arrived at the fig stand just as they were closing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal, if you’re buying in bulk.
Farmers work hard to grow their goods, so I’m not a fan of bargaining down on one or two potatoes. But if you’re buying 10, it’s worth asking for a price break. You might hear “no,” but many vendors are happy to hook you up if you’re buying a large amount of one thing.
Go consistently and befriend vendors.
I got a huge bag of poblano chilies for free last week. Yes, free. Why? Because the purveyor at one of my favorite vegetable stands thinks I’m charming—and also because he appreciates that I show up every week to buy from him. He almost always throws in a little extra something for me when I stop by, and never fails to cut me a great deal. Kindness and loyalty count at the farmers market—and as my grandfather always said, it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.
Buy meat, fish, eggs and dairy in smaller quantities.
If I weren’t on a budget, I would buy 100% of my meat, fish, eggs and dairy at the farmers market, but that is just not the case. However, I believe in supporting all local agriculture, so I still partake in the deliciousness of such products, I just do so sparingly. A special local cheese to try, a 6-pack of farm-fresh eggs, a small package of sausages—it can all be done on limited funds—just choose wisely.
Share with friends.
My friend Julia and I were at the farmers market together recently, and she spotted a sweet deal at one of my favorite farmer’s stall: 6 Haas avocados for $5. Since most avocados typically run for $2-ish each, this was a steal. But the avocados were ripe, and we knew that neither of us would manage to eat 6 avocados before they were officially too mushy to be good, so we did the obvious thing and split them. We each got 3 gorgeous avocados for less than $1 each—way less than it would have cost if we were buying them in a grocery store.
Look for deals on imperfect produce.
Fruits and vegetables with short shelf lives often get the price break treatment from farmers who need to get rid of them, but still need to make a profit. Look for big bags of “sauce tomatoes” (previously perfect tomatoes that have gone soft and are therefore perfect for making sauce) or reduced-price bruised apples, pears, peaches and nectarines (hello homemade jam!). This is a great way to score perfectly usable local produce on the cheap.
Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Most recently, she developed “Young and Hungry”, an ABC Family sitcom based on her life and writing. It premiers this summer (2014).