I hear all the time that Farmers’ Markets are so expensive. At one time, I thought the same thing. Over the years, I have changed my mind and now think that not only do I get a better value for my money at the fm, I actually save money!
Here are a few tips to help you save money at the Farmers’ Market:
Avoid the non-produce booths- I love the artisanal booths at the markets. The bread, cheeses, bath products, gourmet salts, and baked goods booths have amazing products! However, if you are on a tight budget then you will want to window shop only. These booths are usually run by the artist/baker/creator and when you have a little extra pocket money I highly suggest you use it to support these independent local artists. The products sold at these booths are high quality and rightfully deserve high quality prices.
Take a lap- Look around at all the different booths offering the produce you are interested in before making a purchase. In general the prices will be comparable, but sometimes a farm is producing more of an item than expected and the price will be a bit lower because of it. Note prices and quality and comparison shop. If one stand has great prices on kale but expensive carrots, buy the kale there and find another stand with a better deal on carrots. By taking your time and checking the prices and quality first you avoid buyer’s remorse.
Buy items that are in season and grow in your area- Currently blueberries, peaches, kale, chard and summer squash are in season in my area. Because those items are so abundant with all the farms at the market, the prices are lower. Since I live in New Jersey, there are not many farms producing pineapples around here. Even so, there is a booth at my local market that always has a few pineapples for sale but they are expensive. If I compare prices on blueberries at the fm to the grocery store, the fm’s prices are cheaper, however the grocery store has better prices on the pineapple and a better selection. Buying “in season” saves you money but it also means fresher, healthier produce. Produce that is shipped to grocery stores is often harvested earlier so it can withstand the long distance shipping experience. Local produce is likely have retained it’s nutrients because it’s picked/harvested closer to being ripe. This means you are getting more nutrients for your dollar. And the nutrients you get from in season produce often correspond to your bodies needs during that season. For example, winter crops include citrus fruits which are loaded with Vitamin C, something that helps boost your immune system which needs to be at it’s best to combat all the colds going around during that time of year.
Buy only what you are capable of consuming or storing- When the booths are brimming with crisp and colorful produce, it’s easy to get carried away. I’ve been guilty of overbuying and subsequently heart broken when some produce went bad because I didn’t get to it. In my experience, the produce I buy at farmers’ markets generally lasts longer than supermarket produce. How much longer depends on where you live, when I lived in Florida it was maybe an extra day or two, in New Jersey I usually can get an extra week. That being said, I try to only buy what I need for the week. If you are planning on canning or freezing then you should still keep in mind how much you are capable of canning/freezing and your storage capacity before purchasing. Throwing produce away is like taking money and putting it down the garbage disposal.
Along the same lines, keep in mind how soon you plan on preparing each item and how fresh that item looks. For example, if you plan on preparing broccoli the day you are buying it, you may feel satisfied with a cheaper bunch of broccoli that may be a few days old and spending that savings on a basket of peaches that are freshly picked that you will be consuming all week
Make a meal plan and create a list to avoid impulse buys- Each week I create a meal plan for the week. I start by determining what is in season. Epicurious has a great resource for this here. Many farmers’ market’s websites also list this information. After building my meal plan I create a shopping list that I take with me to the market. Sticking to the list helps me save money and reduces waste. I don’t use this as an excuse to not go out of my comfort zone though. If I see an item that I have not tried or have been wanting to get my hands on, I see if I can swap it with another ingredient. If not, I will check with the person running the stand to see if the item is expected to be back next week. If so, I will build it into the plan next week. If not, I will usually splurge on it. I try to give myself wiggle room but by constraining myself to the list 90% of the time I usually stay on budget!
Go closer to market closing- This tip is risky! Most farmers don’t want to return from the farmers’ markets with a lot of produce unsold. So, sometimes you can find great deals at the end of the day. There are two risks to this strategy. First, the produce you are looking for is gone. Corn season is big here in New Jersey and at a local market, a local farmer pulls up a truck of corn on Saturday morning and there is a line at that truck all day. When it’s gone it’s gone. Second, the items that are left are not the “pick of the litter”. But, you may get a smoking deal on produce that is still fresher than you may find at the grocery store.
What tips do you have to save money at the Farmers’ Market?