You guys. I’m excited because it’s the first week of June, and this means that all the local farmers markets here in Boston will be kicking off soon if they haven’t already. Browsing around different farmers markets is one of my favorite summer activities: it’s relaxing, fun, and it introduces you to new foodie items and ways of cooking. It also can be a more affordable option for buying fresh produce and herbs rather than going to the grocery store. I love Whole Foods and all, but getting our produce, meat, and seafood from local vendors and supporting small business owners instead is way more exciting to me. If you are new to the farmers market world, today I am sharing some tips for you to make the most of your farmers market shopping experience. Here goes!

8 Tips for Shopping at the Farmers Market 

Know the schedules of the markets near you.

More and more towns are starting to offer local farmers markets on a weekly basis, so make sure to familiarize yourself when various markets are offered. Check out a few in person so you can get a feel for which ones you like the best. One of my absolute favorite local markets for my Boston-based friends is the one in Waltham on School Street on Saturday mornings. I also have the Oak Square market on Wednesdays and Watertown market on Thursdays on my radar to see how those ones are this year. Knowing the schedules of the markets in the towns near you makes it easy to swing by one if you need to pick up something quick after work. You can also connect with some of your local farmers markets on social media to stay apprised of special deals being offered, featured vendors during a particular week, and any different events that might be going on.

Heavens Harvest at the Farmers Market

Bring your own bags.

I remember the first time Tim and I went to a farmers market, we didn’t bring our own bags and felt like such newbies. Rookie mistake! Bringing a reusable tote is not only environmentally friendly, but it makes it much easier to walk around with your purchases, especially if you buy heavier items! You may actually even want to consider bringing your own containers because often times things like cherry tomatoes or berries will provided without a lid. Finally, depending on whether or not you are going right home after the farmers market, bring a cooler. This way if you are buying things like meat, cheese, seafood, or eggs, they won’t go bad.

Get there early.

I prefer to get to the farmers markets on the earlier side for the selection. Often times the freshest or best looking items will sell out early in the day, especially if your local market caters to any restaurants. I want to ensure I can get my pick of what’s available! I also like to go early to make sure I can get free samples as I browse around. C’mon, it’s one of the best parts! On the flip side, if you can’t get there early, shopping later (or in bad weather) can often be the best time to snag a good deal.

Farmers Market

Have cash on you.

Many vendors will accept debit or credit cards nowadays, but some farmers markets are still cash only operations. I like to have cash on me to make it easier, and I recommend bringing small bills. Some farmers will be doing their day’s dealings from a cash box, so having small bills just makes it easier on them.

Visit all the tables before buying anything.

When you arrive, take a lap around the entire market before you buy anything. Doing so gives you a chance to assess what’s there that day and compare cost and quality between vendors, as many markets will often have a few different vendors who sell meat, a few who sell produce, etc. Some vendors also might be able to pay a little more for prime real estate (ie at the entrance of the market), so you don’t want to miss out on anything that might be located in the back. Tim and I have our routine down when we go: I get an iced coffee, and then we do our lap while stopping for free samples, asking questions, and checking out what’s still available along the way. Once we decide on what we will get, we’ll go back to those specific tables to make a purchase.

Seafood vendor at Waltham Farmers Market

Chat with the vendors.

This is one of the best parts! Don’t be afraid to talk to the different farmers and vendors at the market. We will often ask vendors for recommendations on what’s best that week, for cooking tips, or assistance with items that we might not recognize. Don’t be afraid to also question how the food is grown or ask about specific farming practices. For example, if something isn’t certified organic, ask why! Just because a piece of produce is not organic doesn’t always mean it’s covered in pesticides. Many farms will actually use organic practices, but they just aren’t certified by the government for certain reasons. The vendors are so passionate about this stuff, so they’ll be more than happy to talk about it. I feel like I always learn something new when I talk with the vendors at the farmers markets!

Navigate the middle.

Of course I have to put this one in here! Just because you are at a farmers market doesn’t necessarily mean that every single vendor is selling something healthy. This is the same concept as the people who buy cookies in Whole Foods and think they are eating something nutritious. Sure, the Whole Foods cookies may not have as many chemicals, but sugar is sugar. Your local farmers markets will likely have vegan donuts, organic chocolate, etc. By all means, get your treats! You guys know I recommend a non-deprivation approach. Just continue to be mindful of navigating the middle when it comes to your nutrition, as always.

Don’t have a plan.

This one sounds unlike me, huh? Normally I recommend having a plan when going grocery shopping, and I am definitely a meal planner week to week. However, when it comes to shopping at farmers markets, it’s actually easier to not have a plan. What’s being sold is dependent on the weather the previous week and many other factors, so it’s a lot easier to fly by the seat of your pants and pick out things that just look good than be disappointed when something specific you are looking for is unavailable. Some of our best inspiration in the kitchen has come from picking up whatever just looks good or looks like something new and fun to make. Not having a plan makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable!

Summer Squash at Sowa

Now it’s your turn! Do you shop at local farmers markets in the summer? Boston friends, what are your favorite ones? I would love to hear what your best tips are for making the most of your experience. Leave a comment to tell me!

For some farmers market inspired summer recipes, check out:

Asian style shrimp stir fry with snow peas and bok choy

Farro and veggie stuffed pattypan squash

Grilled shrimp nicoise salad

Heirloom tomato caprese salad

Summer squash and zucchini ribbon salad

Vegetarian lunchtime cabbage stir fry