Living in Los Angeles, the farmers' markets happen year round. Yet, like the rest of the nation, summer is when the markets are in full bloom. Having ventured to these local markets for many years I've learned a few things to make the most of the farmers market experience. Here are six tips to consider for your next trip.
1. Think like a farmer. Be an early riser. Get to the market early, rather than late, and you'll have first pick of choice produce. The farmers themselves (or those working for them) will be fresh, too, and more likely to chat and answer questions.
2. Circle twice. Shop once. Before diving in circle the whole market like a shark, taking in the prices, the people, and the produce. As I survey the stands I think of the meals which can be made, the quantities I'll need, and I make a mental note of which farm stand I'm drawn to, both intuitively and price-wise.
3. One bag only. The hardest thing for me to do at the farmer's market is not to overspend or overbuy. Carrying only one bag helps. Bringing a limited amount of cash also keeps me on the budget. In the end, you'll have more funds in the bank account and less produce rotting in bottom of the bins.
4. Make it an adventure. After picking up the basics I leave space in the bag for the experiment; the one item I've yet to try or the farm stand I've yet to visit. Each trip to the market helps me expand my horizons, culinary speaking.
5. Start a conversation. Make a friend. Find out where the farm is located, how many acres do they have, how long have they owned it, etc. If anyone knows about the produce, it's the farmer. Discover recommended ways to serve this or that fruit or vegetable and how to tell when the melon is really ripe. I find myself returning to the farm stands where the friendliest farmers abound. Soon, relationships are made, bonds are formed, and heading out the farmer's market isn't a chore as much as it is a trip to see and chat with old friends.
6. Keep it whole. The aisle full of caramel corn stands, organic ice cream, tacos, bratwurst, and lemon shake ups? Yes, technically it is part of the farmers' market experience. Yes, it is tempting. Yes, it is hard to avoid, especially with kids in tow. Stay clear. At the very least, spend the majority of your cash with the farmers. Only after the real, "whole" shopping is done should you venture down that caramel corn candy aisle.
Are you a farmers' market veteran? What tips do you have to share?