Last week I was invited to walk the Wednesday morning farmers' market at the Temecula Promenade. I had no idea of a weekday market there and enjoyed a chance to try some perfectly ripe strawberries during the week and check out other vendors.
My older son got his first taste of a peach at my local Saturday morning market, wrapped in a carrier, and the last time we went picked out vegetable seeds for us to try.
Last Wednesday, my baby got his first navel orange slice and didn’t want to share the strawberry we snacked on while we strolled.
Farmers' markets are a great way to pick up produce or goods from local merchants, learn about new varieties of fruits and vegetables and make a difference in the local economy.
We love them! And so should you.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Finding a farmers' market
Local Harvest is a great resource for finding farmer’s markets anywhere in the United States. You can search for a farm or market by city, state or zip code. You can also search for what kind of produce, meat or products you are looking for (including hand spun yarn). You can read what others have to say about the markets or review them yourself.
Certified farmers' markets are locations where farmers and ranchers can sell directly to consumers without being subject to the USDA regulations and packaging requirements, and must be certified by the county Agricultural Commissioner. The farmers must also prove to grow the food they are selling before being allowed at a CFM.
Bring your own
For some of us that is a no-brainer, but even at my little market I have forgotten and relied on the plastic bags the vendors keep. I use my own bags to help pack as I go for easier unloading at home.= instead of juggling bags from every stall. Since I usually have my children with me the stroller doubles as a grocery cart- perfect for keeping hands free.
Some vendors have ways to swipe debit cards, but using cash just makes the whole process easier. Try to bring smaller bills if possible – you will be buying from the individual vendors instead of a central checkout.
Get there early
My local market opens at 7 a.m. – and that’s when the locals pounce on ripe avocados, freshly picked crisp lettuce and first choice of everything. My favorite way to start my shopping is to grab a latte and drink it while I walk down the market. Which now leads me to –
Take a walk first
Those first beautiful strawberries may lure you in, but you may find some you like better down the row. Walking the market first lets you plan your purchases better so you don’t spend all of your money before you hit the end.
Understand your terms and ask questions
There are many ways to describe how food and animal products are treated .
Conventional. No-spray. Organic, Sustainable. Transitional.
Decide what is important to you and understand what terms go with it. Realize that being certified organic can be a long, expensive process for small family farms. Ask how vegetables are treated for disease or pests and what sprays are used, and know that just because it is not certified organic doesn’t mean it isn’t treated that way.
Leave your pets at home
Since certified markets are considered permitted food facilities, they do not allow pets except for service animals. Markets are often held in parking lots or streets, and the ground is too hot for four-legged friends.
Try something new
Ask about produce you’ve never seen before. Ask how the farmer prepares it at home, or try samples if they are available. Buy it then because some have a short window – I fell in love with coffee cake persimmons last fall but when I went back the next week they didn’t have them anymore.
Do you go to farmers' markets? Any good tips to share?