One of my favourite parts of summer and early fall is shopping at local markets around Victoria. The great thing about farmers markets is that most of the food is usually local and organic! I find that when you shop for fruits and veggies in season, organic is very affordable. Shopping at local markets by far more fun then you're typical grocery store, there is usually live music, natural cosmetics and soaps, clothes, bags and of course fresh local fruits and vegetable from your local farmers.
Tip #1 Pick the right market
From my experience I have found that the smaller more suburban markets tend to be less crowded and offer cheaper prices. If you're lucky to live in a place with several markets like I do, try going to a new one every weekend to see which one has the best deals. I've found the the bigger more downtown markets have the highest prices. Finding the quieter markets can save you money and offer a more enjoyable shopping experience.
Tip #2 Don't buy the first thing you see
Often times the vendors will compete on prices. If you see something you want do a once around the market first and then if it's still the best price go back and buy it.
Tip #3 Bring a bag + cash
Often vendors won't have bags so it's important to bring a reusable bag. Most of us have 100 of these bags stuffed in a closet and this is the perfect time to use them. Cash is another farmers market essential, some take debit/credit, but the majority don't. If your market sells eggs, cheese, milk, meat, or fish, bring a cooler.
Tip #4 Get there as soon as they open
The best time to shop at a farmers market is as soon as they open. This is usually the quietest time at the market. For the best selection, go to the farmers market early. The best goods go first. Popular items may even sell out before the day is done.
Tip #5 Buy in bulk
Many of the farmers will sell in bulk and that's a great way to save money, but what you do with it all? Freezing, canning, and drying are just some of the ways you can have delicious seasonal foods you find at the farmers market for later in the year.
Tip #6 Plan meals ahead
It's important gather up some recipes and make a list of what you need before going. Plan you recipes for the week before hand so you know exactly what you need. Or else it's pretty easy to get caught up in the farmers market experience and come home with way to much.
Tip #7 Talk to the vendors
Talking to the farmers and booth workers is one of the huge benefits of the market. While being respectful of the fact that they're working, of course, you might ask where the farm is located, what sort of practices they use, etc. Many farmers are excited to talk about what they do. It's also important to mention that not all vendors will have organic produce so that's another question you can ask if you don't see it clearly marked on a sign. If they don't have an organic certification that doesn't necessarily mean that the their produce is swimming in pesticides. They may take every precaution to keep their food organic but can't afford the certification.
Tip #8 Buy on Saturday, batch cook Sunday
One of the best ways to use up all of the delicious foods you just bought at your farmers market is to use them all the next day! Prepping a big batch of something and then eating off it all week is a great way to save time, save money, and plan ahead for all the little emergencies that inevitably pop up during the week.
How long will my veggies last?
- Vegetables that keep until the end of the week: roasted squash, cooked beets, chopped carrots or bell peppers.
- Vegetables that keep for 1-3 days: fresh vegetable salad, most steamed or roasted vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), most leafy salads if you keep the dressing separate.
Tip #9 If you're gluten free, take extra precaution
Don't automatically assume gluten free labeling is safe. Technically if someone is selling something with a gluten free label they should have to follow the labeling laws associated. Like for example the product must be under 20 parts per million if labelled gluten free. Unfortunately these are local markets, where many of the products are made in someones home or in a small facility. Gluten free is a huge trend so you'll find many gluten free labels at farmers markets. You should take extra precaution when you see these labels because they aren't always safe for those with celiac disease or anyone on a strict gluten free diet.
Asking questions past is this gluten free is important because often the vendor will assure you that it is, but that's not always the case. To see if it's really safe ask:
1. Is this made in a gluten free facility?
2. If not what precautions do you take in order to keep this gluten free?
3. Are the ingredients you use to make this gluten free?
4. Are you familiar with the term cross contamination and what measures to you take to prevent it?
It may seem like a lot of questions but trust me when I say that it's very important to be careful when you're buying locally made goods. If you're in doubt or the person doesn't seem to understand what you're talking about then don't buy.
I love to hear your best tips, tricks, and all-around love for farmers' markets below!