A few weeks ago I wrote about how for many, cooking is a chore, a means to an end. Well, I have a feeling that many people look at grocery shopping that way too.
But the good new is that you don’t have to.
I probably sound like a broken record by now, but Josh and I do most of our shopping at the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University on Saturdays. It’s partially because we regularly volunteer at that specific market, but also because it has become part of our routine on Saturday mornings to get up early, browse the stands, chat with the vendors and try some delicious food before we move onto the rest of our day. So instead of it being a chore, it’s become a fun activity for us.
I feel right at home the moment I walk into a farmer’s market. But I’m sure many people, possibly including you, feel the opposite, so I thought I’d share my tips for successful farmers market shopping.
Many markets are laid out in a rectangle with both an outer layer and an inner layer. Unlike a grocery store, where there is a dedicated produce section, the produce vendors at a farmers market are typically scattered throughout the market, with other types of goods mixed in between. That’s where shopping a market can get overwhelming. After all, if there are 10 different vendors selling similar produce in 10 different locations, how are you supposed to pick one?
- Make a list. I have found that successful market shopping starts with a list, whether it’s a written weekly meal plan or just a vague list in your head. If I ever walked into a farmer’s market without a plan, I’d probably leave with four different kinds of lettuce, five kinds of cheese and a dozen pastries. If you’re not sure what is in season, try looking at the market’s website. Many of them update their sites regularly with what’s currently at the market.
- Go early. I recommend this for several reasons. First, if the market is large, like the market at PSU, you’ll want to beat the crowds by going as close to the opening bell as possible. The other reason is selection. The earlier you get there, the more variety there will be. If you go late, vendors often sell out of popular items.
- Take inventory. Before you buy anything, walk around the market to see what’s available. This can be difficult if the market is large or busy, but spending time walking around and scouting out what’s there will help you get an idea for what is available. It will also give you a chance to compare pricing (but most of the time there isn’t much of a difference) and quality.
- Bring cash. Vendors prefer to work with cash, and few take credit cards. Visit an ATM before you hit up the market or if your market offers it, take advantage of their token system. And if you’ve got an Oregon Trail card, many markets accept those as well.
- Bring your own bags. I recommend bringing at least three or four small bags to the market to put your goodies in. Many vendors offer plastic bags, but not all of them, and it’s a good idea to avoid using them anyway. When Josh and I do our shopping, we bring a backpack to put the heavy stuff in, a waterproof tote bag for items such as eggs and delicate fruit, plus some mesh bags to serve as produce bags for loose produce, like beans, potatoes or mushrooms.
- Be adventurous. Try something new! One of the best things I’ve ever discovered at the market is the fava bean. They may require a little work before you can eat them but they’re definitely worth it.
- Sample, sample, sample. Many vendors offer samples of what they’re selling. Take them up on the offer. That’s how we found our favorite cheese vendor – every time we’d walk by, he’d call us over to try multiple samples.
- Talk to the vendor. This is one of my favorite parts. Vendors love to talk to you – they want to explain what makes their product amazing, so give them the chance! It’s how you learn about new foods to try, recipes and it contributes to the market community.
- Follow the rules. Many markets prohibit dogs, so if you’ve got a pooch you like to take with you on weekend outings, check the website before you go. Speaking from experience, it’s no fun to be the volunteer who has to chase shoppers down the aisle and ask them to leave.
- Take your time. Shopping the farmer’s market when you’re in a hurry is no fun. It’s stressful and I think it defeats the purpose of visiting the market, which is to enjoy yourself by chatting with vendors, trying new foods and even enjoying the entertainment.