Make the Most out of Your Farmers' Market Trips

market1When people ask why my husband and I live in San Diego instead of moving back to Rhode Island, I usually say, “the farmers’ markets.” I’m joking. Sort of. Really, how many other places have over 40 farmers’ markets that are open year-round? We’re lucky, and we know it.

Fortunately, farmers’ markets are located across the country. So no matter where you live, here are nine ways to make the most out of your trips to the farmers’ market.

1. Be prepared. Before you leave the house, make sure you have some sturdy, eco-friendly reusable bags and plenty of small bills (ones and fives) and quarters. Consider bringing an insulated bag for items such as farm fresh eggs or cheese.

2. Be patient. Resist the urge to purchase the first plump tomato or crisp red bell pepper you see. Always stroll through the entire market once to assess the produce and prices.

3. Engage in farm talk. Unlike a trip to the grocery store, you have the unique opportunity to ask the farmers all types of questions, so don’t be shy. They’re usually excited to talk about their work (provided there isn’t a line of 10 people waiting to pay). If the farmer’s produce isn’t “certified organic,” be sure to ask about his or her farming practices. Many small farmers practice organic farming but can’t afford to have the “certified organic” designation.

4. Plan ahead. Find out how long the season will last for different crops, especially maddeningly short seasonal crops such as fava beans, English peas, or cherries. That way you won’t miss out on your favorites (which has happened to me) and perhaps preserve them for the off-season.

5. Be adventurous. Try something new or strange. If it weren’t for farmers’ market samples, I would never have discovered some of my favorite fruits, including cherimoyas, kumquats, and jujubes.

6. Save money the right way. If you’re looking to save money, then buy in bulk. Most farmers are more than happy to sell you a bushel of peppers or a half a dozen flats of strawberries at a discounted price. It’s considered impolite, however, to ask for a discount on single items or small purchases. Keep in mind that farmers usually set fair prices from the outset; paying full price supports them and the local economy. Another way to save money is to shop just before closing time when farmers often discount their goods to sell before hitting the road.

7. Spread the wealth. We are creatures of habits, so many of us tend to buy from the same vendors each week. Try someone new next time you’re at the market. You might discover a new vegetable, a new recipe, or a new friend.

8. Create good karma. Compliment farmers on their produce. Give them feedback about the quality of their goods as well. Tell them about a recipe you made featuring their goods. If something was disappointing, then let them know in a polite manner. Exchange recipes with them. Or surprise them with a dish made from their goods.

9. Promote your market. Tell your friends, family, and local schools about the farmers’ markets. Host a dinner featuring only locally produced foods, and tell your guests about the farmers who provided it. Blog and tweet about your farmers’ markets. Mention them on Facebook, and post pictures on Flickr. Do anything you can to spread the word.

marketdishLemony Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ricotta, and Mint
Makes 2 servings

6 ounces pasta shells
4 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
The zest and juice of 1/2 medium lemon (about 1 tablespoon juice)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh shelled English peas
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
2 tablespoons freshly grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Lemon zest curls, optional garnish

1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to direction, until al dente. Reserve a cup of hot pasta water.

2. In a small bowl, stir ricotta cheese, lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper. Thin it with a little bit of hot pasta water. Stir until creamy but not watery.

3. Drain cooked pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Add peas and ricotta mixture and toss well. Stir in mint and grated cheese. Drizzle each serving with extra virgin olive oil and garnish with lemon zest curls, if desired.

Variation: For a meat version, add 2-3 ounces crispy prosciutto or pancetta. If you're gluten-intolerant, then substitute gluten-free pasta.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should KnowCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too and The Encyclopedia of SandwichesCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too.