Navigating the Farmers Markets
The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, now 40 years old, has become so much more than a place to pick up fresh food. It provides a beautiful Saturday morning stroll, a place to visit with friends, even an exciting morning out for the family canine. With so many wonderful things happening all at once, shopping for the week’s veggies sometimes takes a back seat.
For some, passing table after table of beautiful produce can be a little overwhelming, especially if they have experienced the disappointment of sending their market purchases to the compost pile because they went bad before they could be eaten. While it’s tempting to buy everything that looks tasty, there are a few things to consider to ensure that you get the most of your trip to any of the regional farmers markets.
Like any successful shopping trip, it’s important to come prepared. While most vendors offer plastic bags, it is more earth-friendly and practical to bring your own reusable shopping bags. Are you planning on buying fresh flowers to brighten your home? Bring a Mason jar so that you can set your blooms down as you enjoy your morning coffee without damaging fragile petals.
Trips to area markets during spring mornings can be chilly, so bring a jacket that can be shed when the sun comes out to warm things up. Waiting until later in the morning to visit the market might afford you a more comfortable temperature, but this may be at the cost of those in-demand, rare products, such as fresh eggs and pastured meat, which sell quickly. Arrive early to shop, then hang around for coffee with friends to get the most from your morning.
Speaking of the social aspect of the farmers markets, Saturday mornings are a great time to catch up with friends. Instead of hurrying to get through all your shopping on Saturday morning, just grab a few things for your meals early in the week. In areas that have mid-week markets, consider planning your major produce shopping during the middle of the week, perhaps during a lunch break, to focus more on shopping when there is less of a crowd. More frequent trips also mean fresher food and less waste.
Available produce varies from one week to the next, and from one market to the next, so make a trip around the market before purchasing to see what different varieties are available. Prices are generally about the same from one stall the next, but you may prefer one vendor’s quality or presentation over the others.
Expect to find a growing variety of products at the market from week to week as the season progresses. Early spring crops will include a lot of greens, such as kale, Swiss chard and lettuces, as well as some root crops, such as radishes and turnips. Available varieties will expand to include warmer weather veggies, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, well into the summer.
If you are planning on growing some of your own food this year, keep in mind that farmers market vendors often offer plants for varieties that grow well in this climate. Expect to see cooler weather crops like cabbage and broccoli early in the season, with tomato and pepper plants showing up in middle to late April or May. SNAP dollars can be used to buy herb and vegetable plants at some local markets, offering a season full of food with just one small purchase.
The appealing environment of area farmers markets makes them the perfect place to enjoy shopping for fresh food. Make the most of your time and money by shopping smart and, perhaps equally importantly, take the time to share the experience with good friends.