I just love this time of year...even if it is still grey and drizzling out...it's the time when the Farmer's Markets start sprouting (pun intended) up everywhere!
I love just wandering around and seeing the beautiful colors of fresh fruits and vegetables.I could wander and take pictures, smell the delicious fragrances and people watch all day.
I miss living in downtown Oakland and having an amazing market only a few blocks away. Now, in Portland, I have half a dozen ones only a few (driving) minutes away. Either place. I don't care. I just love Farmer's Markets. I try to go every weekend (if I can).
Earlier this month Serious Eats website posted an article about 7 Tips for Making the Most of the Farmer's Markets. I agree with every single tip and try to remember them every time I go shopping. So I wanted to share them here.
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7 Tips for Making the Most of the Farmer's Markets
Tip #1 - Shop Around: As tempting as those heirloom tomatoes or that huge stalk of brussels sprouts looks on the first table, even at a farmers' market, location is everything. At larger markets, you can expect the stalls nearest the entrance and exits or the ones closest to public transportation to sport heftier prices than the stalls further in from the periphery. I always try and take a quick walk all the way up and down the market taking note of who has what and what they're charging before jumping into any purchase. (It's so true! I've found the exact same produce, typically the same quality, for way cheaper in the further back stalls. Not to mention often these ones will be less picked over because they're further off the beaten path).
Tip #2 - Visit Early for Selection, Late for Price: Absolutely have to get your hands on some ramps or morels? You probably want to get to the market early to pick up the rarities before they go. On the other hand, late shopping has its benefits too. As the market day approaches its finish, many farmer's with extra produce will pass off the goods at bargain-basement prices. Just last week I picked up a dozen laid-that-morning eggs from Ronnybrook for 50¢ less than what I pay for organic eggs in the supermarket. Last year I snagged a few flats of overripe heirloom tomato seconds for $1 a pound—perfect for filling my winter pantry with jars of sauce. (I prefer going early because you don't have the same amount of crowds as mid-day and the vegetables look better; haven't started to wilt with the heat)
Tip #3 - Bring Your Own Bag: Bringing a sturdy, reusable shopping bag to the farmer's market not only makes sense for the environment, it's also nicer to the farmers and easier on your hands (our sturdy handles are way more comfortable than cheap plastic loops). (How could you think this is a bad idea? Who cares if everything is just getting piled on top of one another? The only trick is don't put a heavy bag of potatoes on top of those ripe peaches you just bought....squish)
Tip #4 - Communicate: Nobody knows their product better than the farmer's that produce them, and farmers' markets give you the opportunity to hear what's what straight from the horse's mouth. Make regular visits, and you may even find yourself getting better bargains or being offered special products for your loyalty. (When I was living in Oakland, I had one vendor that always had the best citrus. I'd take the offered samples, buy a variety here and there and after a while became a "regular". So often they'd weigh my bags and then toss in a handful of extra goodies here and there. Communication helps)
Tip #5 - Leave Your Shopping List Open: In fact, unless you really have to, don't go with a shopping list at all—go with a budget instead. Farmers' markets by their very nature are dynamic things that change from week to week both in terms of availability and quality. Be open to shopping around for the best ingredients whether they were part of your original plan or not, and you'll end up with a much better bounty. (Who goes to a Farmer's Market and only buys what's on their list?! I go with a few things I want to see if I can find sure...but then 2/3 of what I come home with wasn't even on my mind before I found them. Tamales, blueberry bread, earrings....so many amazing things. Keep an open mind people!)
Tip #6 - Do Your Research: Only a thorough on-site evaluation will tell you what's best on any particular day, but it pays to know in advance what to expect. Are we at the height of asparagus season, or is it more likely the farmer's are pushing stalks that are past their prime? Should you be focusing on the sprouts or the squash? You wouldn't want to miss out on the short Greengage season because you're busy filling your bag up with the apples that'll still be around for weeks to come, right? (Right...sure...uhhuh...whatever. I mean I do pay attention to what is in season and when...on some level. Mostly because now that I'm in Portland I can't get certain things all year long like I could in California. Asparagus, artichokes, peaches, GOOD citrus...these are things I have in my head so I know when to start scouring the country side for them.)
Tip #7 - Spread the Love: A lot of farmers' markets these days feature one or two really large farms that seem to sell a virtual supermarket's worth of produce, and often they sell really great stuff, but chances are they don't have the very best of everything. It pays to spend time visiting multiple stalls to pick and choose the best from each one. The farmers won't get offended. I promise. (I absolutely agree. Don't feel obligated to buy everything from one stall and don't worry if you are just going one stall over. This isn't a popularity contest. Everyone knows you just want the best product. Besides better to help everyone out a little than only one person out a lot. Right?)
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I also found a pretty cool interactive map (for those of you in Portland) of the Farmer's Markets on Oregonlive.
The link also has information about the (Portland-proper) market's such as times, dates and websites. Pretty cool. :)
I can't wait for this weekend - 3 days off and come rain or shine I'm going to a Farmer's Market!