farmersmarket2.jpg Shopping at the farmers market is full of benefits. Michigan State University lists seven of the key benefits. For starters, local food is just plain better. Food isn’t picked early in order to anticipate ship times and conditions, meaning unripe (yet bruised) produce. You get your produce at its peak time (seasonally, when it’s meant to be eaten). That means more flavor. Plus, local food sees less time between the harvest and your meal, so the nutrients have likely stuck around in greater potency. And when you buy local, your food is actually safer for consumption. When your food travels half way around the world that means more time and places for it to get contaminated with something nasty. Buying local also supports your local economy and community, and allows for greater personal connections. You can support people who are your neighbors and you can keep a solid sense of community alive. When you buy directly from local growers, you also get to ask how the food was prepared. You’ll find out how it was harvested, if there are any pesticides on the food and other key details you may want to know. Face it, a little green space here and there also beats strip malls as far as the eye can see. By shopping locally, you help keep farmland and green space open in your community. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to hit up the local farmers market. But rather than going out willy-nilly, there are some pro tips to keep in mind. Below are 10 tips that will help you make the most of your trip to the farmers market.

1. Become a pro at finding them

Of course, the first thing you need to do is find a farmers market. Once upon a time, you may have had to browse ads or go by word of mouth. Today, the USDA has a guide for finding a quality farmers market. It allows you to search by zip code. Otherwise, there is also, which provides a searchable directory, events listings, featured products and more.

2. Have good gear

Since you’re trying to be green by shopping locally, remember to take your own reusable bags. Some ice packs during hot days will also keep your food fresher. If you’re going for a big haul, consider having a cooler with ice packs in the car so you can drop off a few loads of produce and keep it cool. That’s when those reusable bags will really come in handy as well. It’s a really smart idea if you’re shopping for dairy products.

3. Set your time

General advice for the farmers market is to either go early or go late. Going early gets you access to the best selection of produce before everything gets picked over. If you’re really not an early worm, the other option is to go late around closing time. At this time, you can find good deals on produce that the farmers may not want to load back up and potentially throw out. Although haggling is discouraged at farmers markets, at this time you may be able to strike a bargain on the produce that is left over.

4. Once there, walk through first

If you’re a farmers market virgin, the first thing to realize is that it’s a completely different shopping experience from a regular grocery store. You can’t just make a beeline for that produce on your list that’s always available there. At a farmers market, you’ll find what’s available in your location seasonally, and that can change slightly depending on how favorable the growing season is. Certain produce comes early, and others come late, so it’s always a bit of a surprise what’s there. You may find something you wanted instead of what’s on your list or in addition to your list. You may also find a cheaper price than you would have found at first.

5. Know what’s in season

Speaking of seasonal food, some preliminary research is helpful to know what will be there in general. You can form a tentative list that way, although, don’t expect to set it in stone for the reasons listed above. A good resource for finding what produce is available in your area at a certain time is, which lists resources for finding out what’s in season by state. Also, be wary of anything you find for sale at the farmers market that isn’t in season. These items may have been shipped from afar and resellers are selling them in an attempt to cash in on the trendiness of farmers markets. Don’t reward that sort of behavior.

6. Plan ahead

Since you’re now shopping seasonally, plan on what you’ll want on hand down the road when that produce is out of season. You’ll want to buy in bulk accordingly. You can then either freeze or can your produce. Here’s a good guide on how to freeze your produce and here’s a good guide for canning.

7. Be friendly

Part of supporting the local community is getting involved with the local community. Sounds obvious, but when normal shopping involves picking items off a shelf quickly and keeping your head down, talking to people can feel like a novel concept. Get to know the farmers and other shoppers. Farmers can tell you about how the produce was grown and other shoppers may offer tips on how to cook with certain produce.

8. Buy what inspires you

Sometimes you might just want to ditch the list. Get out of the “buy x vegetable when needed” rut and allow yourself to be surprised and motivated by what is around you. You may be inspired to try some new recipes based on what you find or you may want to try a whole new batch of produce you’ve never gone near before. Treat the farmers market as a vacation for your taste buds. You may just end up building a new shopping list.

9. Take small cash

Remember to keep in mind that most sellers aren’t swimming in large bills, so stop at the bank before you go and be the person to provide the much-needed single bills. Anyone who’s worked as a cashier during odd hours understands the plight of having nothing but $20 bills and three quarters.

10. Wash everything once you get home

Rinse your vegetables off right when you get home. Since the food was picked recently, it could still have dirt, and yes, the occasional insect. Since fruit spoils if rinsed too early, keep it in the fridge in shallow containers and then rinse before eating or storing.