April 30, 2010

Shop Smart at the Farmers' Market

Our local Farmers' Market season starts bright and early at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning at Depot Park. You'll likely see tons of strawberries, asparagus, onions, and more. But, if you're like most, navigating the Farmers' Market can be slightly overwhelming. Here's all you need to know to get the most out of your morning:

1. Get there early. The best produce will go to those who start their shopping early -- and the later you arrive, the less diversity of produce you'll find. However, if you decide to sleep in, know that late-birds often get the best deals as farmers are more likely to reduce their prices as closing time nears.

2. Bring a big bag and small bills. The farmers will likely have plastic bags for you to use, but you'll be better served by bringing your own reusable bag that allows you to stow away your finds and keep your hands free. You don't need an official reusable grocery bag -- any tote or backpack will suffice. While you're at it, hit the ATM before you arrive and break up those $20s. This will make your transactions faster, especially in the early hours when making change is harder.

3. Plan seasonally. There's something to be said for spontaneity, but you're more likely to find the Farmers' Market useful if you have an idea what to expect. Learn what items are usually available in the spring in our area, and then plan your meals around those items. That way, you know what and how much of an item you'll need before you arrive -- and lessen the chances of buying either too much or not enough.

4. Ask questions. You wouldn't be the first one to happen upon a food you've never seen or tasted before -- as I did when I ran across sunchokes. Rather than skip over that item or buy it with no idea how to use it, ask the farmers for their advice on storage and cooking methods. If they grow it, you can guarantee they eat it. But farmers aren't the only ones who can offer suggestions. Ask other shoppers for their tried-and-true recipes and ideas.

5. Prepare in advance. You may hit the Farmers' Market and then head right back home. Or you may work your Farmers' Market trip into your Saturday morning errands. If that's the case, make sure you have a cooler and a couple ice packs so your fresh produce stays that way as it sits in the back of your car.

What's really awesome is that whether you come prepared or just stroll up with a $5 bill in your pocket, our Farmers' Market is worth the visit. And after you've stocked up on local produce, head over to the Pottery Festival for some local pottery!

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