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As buying local produce and eating organic food becomes more popular, farmer's markets are cropping up everywhere, from big city streets to small town squares. If you are still a grocery store shopper and your local outdoor market remains a mystery, here are some tips that may help you navigate the market for the best and freshest produce of the season.
When To Go
For the first few visits to your market, you may want to experiment by going at different times of day. Early shoppers can usually beat the crowds and have first pick of the best produce. If you prefer a colorful, lively street fair feeling, shop at midday and enjoy the people watching. Many markets also feature music, sales of arts and crafts and other features that don't begin until later in the day. The end of the day may promise fewer crowds and some markets may allow vendors to offer discounts as they close their stalls. Be aware that other markets prohibit vendors to change prices or to negotiate in anyway.
What To Expect
All markets are different and you will need to explore yours to see all it has to offer. On your first visit, you may want to stroll up and down to get a feeling for what is available and what items cost. Be aware that farmer's markets are not for bargain hunters. Farmers are at the market to make a living, not to unload unwanted goods. Your market may offer produce that is certified organic, organic or conventionally grown. Learn about the differences that affect the produce and the price.
What To Buy
The first rule of farmer's market shopping is to enjoy the bounty of the season. This means to shop for asparagus in spring, then strawberries, corn, peaches and melons as the summer progresses. Ask the farmers and they can tell you when their crop is at its peak. You may want to think ahead about your menu for the week and stick to your shopping list. You may also find that once you are at the market, your shopping list will change to fit what is available that week. Be cautious with your budget because with so many fresh fruits and veggies with in reach, it is easy to get carried away and buy items that are tempting but that you can't use.
What To Bring
Expect to pay in cash and bring small bills so you can easily make purchases. Vendors don't take credit or debit cards and sometimes may not be able to make change for large bill. Bring several small cloth bags with you to carry your purchases. Bring enough sacks so you can separate items. You don't want delicate heirloom tomatoes to be crushed when you pile pounds of potatoes on top. If you find you like shopping the market, you may want to invest in an inexpensive, collapsible cart that you can take with you. It can be awkward to carry a week's worth of produce in your arms. A cart makes shopping at the market as convenient as at any store.
You may see odd shaped melons, exotic mushrooms or other things you have never heard of. Don't be shy. Ask the farmer about his produce and how he might prepare a certain food. You may come home with brand new recipes to try.