Farmers’ Markets: Worth the trip
Business is booming for farmers’ markets, with numbers more than doubling in the last 15 years. There are numerous reasons why shoppers are increasingly visiting farmers’ markets. Some people prefer the quality, flavor and higher nutrient value of freshly picked produce. Others seek variety, bargains, or organic produce. Some are also there to support small farms and the environment, feel more connected to their food and its growers, and enjoy the atmosphere.
If you’re accustomed to shopping at farmers’ markets, a few simple tips can make your trip worthwhile, whether that means a drive in the country or a stop in an urban public market.
Price Check: Prices at farmers’ markets are almost certainly cheaper than those at corner convenience stores, but not everything is priced lower than in grocery stores. Highly seasonal items are more likely to be a better deal at farmers markets than the staples, such as carrots, onions, and potatoes. You can also buy in bulk by going in with friends or family. If you want to bargain for a better deal at closing time, make it a win-win for you and the farmer by offering a set amount of money and asking the farmer what he could offer of the produce he has left.
Buy In-Season: At a farmers’ market, shoppers can be confident the produce is fresh. The difference in freshness between farmers’ markets and grocery stores depends a on your store and the season. Many contract with larger farms for seasonal produce while some chains contact with larger farms farther away. Grocery stores also offer out-of-season produce, which clearly has spent more time in shipment.
Find the Unfamiliar: To ship produce great distances, growers have developed varieties than can handle the rigors of travel. Farmers selling at local markets will often grow varieties of vegetables and fruits that don’t stand up to long-distance travel but offer greater or different flavors.
For ideas to prepare your selections, visit web sites with healthful recipes. Part of the fun of farmers’ markets is to get ideas from vendors, too, especially when you see unfamiliar produce.
Support the People and Place: Without middlemen, farmers may get at least twice as much money for their products. Farmers’ markets can be an important part of local economic development strategies. Studies find that money raised tends to circulate within the local economy longer and increase commerce at nearby businesses.
Manage Your Market: You can find nearby farmers’ markets on several Web sites, such as Buy Fresh, Buy Local (www.iowafreshfood.com). If markets are held on particular days, keep one schedule on your refrigerator and a copy in your car or at work so you know when markets are open near you job, home or along your commute.
Although farmers’ markets usually have some bags or boxes, try to bring your own reusable bags with handles. Bringing cash is also smart.
Also, buy only what you realistically will use. You lose the value of freshly picked produce if you buy so much that it sits in your refrigerator too long.
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