We are into our 4th week of the asparagus season, and if you are like me, you are getting a little tired of the go-to roasted / grilled asparagus recipes. There’s a reason it’s a popular way to cook asparagus. It’s easy. It’s quick. It makes for tasty asparagus. But after eating it a couple times a week for 4 weeks, I’ll be honest that I’m a bit tired of it. But I still want to gorge on it while it’s in season, and I don’t have time for fancy risottos and soups and quiches on a regular weeknight. I found and modified this recipe for a quick dinner one night last week. It is a great way to use a bunch of herbs too. I used cilantro, mint, and tarragon. You could also use parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, or dill.
One of the biggest differences between shopping at the grocery store vs. the farmers market is the fact that you have to purchase the items directly from the vendor that produced the item. For many new shoppers (and even some long-time shoppers) this can be uncomfortable and a bit daunting. After all, when you take your cart to the checkout at the grocery store, the cashier doesn’t particularly have a vested interest in what choices you made. Here are a few tips for smoothing the way to making your first market purchases.
- Be polite and courteous. This goes for both the vendor and your fellow shoppers. If you have a question for the vendor or want to make a purchase wait your turn. It can sometimes be a little crazy, if a vendor is popular and lots of people are shopping. A little common courtesy goes a long way!
- Be aware of your surroundings. It is your prerogative to ask the vendor questions before making a purchase or to be selective in looking over the produce or other goods. However, you don’t want to block out other shoppers for a long time or monopolize the vendor when they have other customers to help too.
- Read the signs. They won’t answer all of your questions, but they should give you at least basic information about prices and what each vendor is selling. This will cut down on the time you spend asking questions or trying to make decisions.
- Feel free to ask questions. The best way to learn about the items a vendor is selling is to talk to them. If you can’t find the information you need from the signs or you want to confirm something, don’t be afraid to ask if you have a chance. The vendors know that they are more likely to sell to a customer that has all the information they need to make a decision. If you need an idea on how to cook a vegetable or a cut of meat, they will probably have some good suggestions for you.
- Be understanding. Most vendors are happy to share information with you about their farming practices and production methods. They have had to make some challenging decisions about how to grow, raise, or produce what they are selling. You may not always agree with their decisions about everything, but this isn’t the right time or place to make an issue of it with them in great detail. You might say something like, “I wish I could find this product grown organically.” If they have time, they may explain more, or you can just say thank you and move on.
- Each vendor is unique. While there are certain standards regarding if items can be sold by pound, by bunch, or by volume, among other rules, most items have more than one way they are allowed to be sold. If vendor A is selling strawberries for $5 per pound and vendor B is selling strawberries for $5 per quart, you may not be getting the same amount for the price. You have to be a little savvy to make comparisons.
- Don’t feel obligated to make a purchase. If you have decided something isn’t what you want after looking at it closer and / or talking to the vendor, don’t feel like you have to buy it. Yeah, it’s a bit uncomfortable to walk away, but it’s okay. The vendors understand and they aren’t going to hold it against you, especially if you have been polite, aware, and understanding. If you have been conversing with a vendor, you could say something like, “Thanks for telling me about _____. I’m going to keep looking right now!” Another handy phrase is simply, “I’m not sure I need any this week, but maybe another time. Thank you!”
- Be prepared to pay. All vendors will accept cash payment. More and more vendors will accept credit cards at their booths. If you want to use a credit card, you may want to ask first if they take them. If they don’t, ask if the market can swipe your credit/debit card in exchange for tokens to use like cash. Visit the Information Booth for that service. If you want to use SNAP benefits, you will need to go to the Information Booth at participating markets to use the EBT machine to receive tokens. If you are using your Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers, you will need to look for farmers displaying the signs that they accept those vouchers. Other vendors are not legally allowed to accept them.
The best way to get more comfortable shopping at a market is to keep doing it! Do you have any other tips for new market shoppers to make the first few purchases easier?
The first is to do a walk through of the whole market before delving into shopping, and the second is to find the Market Information Booth.
Doing a Walk Through
Depending on the size of the market you are visiting, doing a walk through could be as simple as taking a good look at the vendors while you still sit in your car. However, if you are going to attend one of the larger Wichita-area markets, you are going to have to park and actually leave your vehicle to see the whole market!
Doing a quick walk through allows you to generally see what vendors are at the market that day and what they are selling. If you have your shopping list with you, you can compare what you see available with what you are looking for. If you need to adjust your list or plans, it gives you a chance to do that before shopping.
During a walk through, I prefer to stick closer to the center of the aisle. It allows me to move faster, without getting caught up in a line at a particular booth. It also allows me to read general signage and prices without having to interact with the vendors. (Yes, vendors that don’t have legible signage are going to lose my business if I have to go up and talk to them to get basic information!) It can be uncomfortable to talk to a vendor and ultimately decide not to purchase. The walk through helps to minimize those experiences by making sure you know where you are most likely to make a purchase first.
Another thing to watch for during your walk through is where are all the other shoppers congregating? Trust me, the regular shoppers DO know something you don’t know! They are busy swooping up prized items that may be in short supply or that are simply popular! It’s okay to watch the crowd in this case.
With all this in mind, don’t be afraid to stop and buy something during your walk through. Sometimes I do a quick walk through of the market just to see if there are any early-season or end-of-season finds that I could miss out on if I wait until I work my way around to that part of the market. If you suspect there could be a short supply of heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, or some other goody, you want to take the opportunity to buy it as soon as you see it!
Find the Market Information Booth
Not every market will have an information booth, but all the larger markets will. Why visit it? The information booth is a great place to find out about where to find certain vendors, find out general information about the market, and maybe even get a drink of water on a hot day! (Or coffee on a cold day.) If the market accepts SNAP benefits or can swipe credit/debit cards for tokens that you can use like cash, the Information Booth is the place to go to participate in that opportunity.
Once you have done a walk through and visited the Information Booth, you are ready to become a regular market shopper!
Are you new to shopping at a farmers’ market? Or maybe you’ve been, but not very often.
Shopping at a farmers’ market is a learned skill, and the more you go, the better you will be. If you’ve never been (or only go a few times a year), it can be almost overwhelming to absorb. The signs (or lack thereof), colors, smells, displays, terminology, types of products…they can all be confusing and send the average shopper running for the safety of their favorite traditional grocery store! This is the start of a series about how to survive and WIN at farmers market shopping.
Before you go to the farmers’ market, you should understand that it can be very much like going to a regular store, only completely different. Here are some things to do in preparation for your visit.
- Research the market (or market options). Beyond the obvious (when and where the market is held), you may also try to determine what vendors will or might be there and what is in season locally. You can check out our sidebar to see what is currently in season! If you are interested in the Old Town or Kansas Grown! markets, they both have websites that list their vendors. The Old Town market also has a neat feature that includes an interactive map of the vendors scheduled to be there that week. The Kansas Grown! website just has a vendor list, but each vendor does say what markets they usually attend. (It’s no guarantee they’ll be there any given week, however!) You can also track down the markets or individual vendors on social media to see when they might be available and what they are selling. My husband always has to check the Facebook page of his favorite baked goods vendor before we go, just to see what’s on the menu this week!
- Make a list (just like grocery shopping). Even if you aren’t a dedicated grocery list user, it is wise to have some idea what you are looking for and what you are willing to pay before you go. Sometimes market prices are much higher than the grocery store and sometimes much less. The size bundles or packages may be different too. If you aren’t used to buying fresh produce or whole cuts of meat, you may want to be conservative the first time, until you are used to having them around. If you are shopping for meat – it comes frozen! This is a different experience if you are used to buying fresh meat at the grocery store and cooking it the same day.
- Take along the right stuff (it makes you look like a regular). Here are a few things that you should plan to take along on your trip to the farmers’ market. Some of these might be obvious, but maybe not everything.
- Your shopping list (sorry, I just had to mention it again)
- A reusable bag or two or three. Most vendors will have plastic bags to put things in, but it is nice to have a reusable bag to corral everything. Extra bags are great during melon and sweet corn season!
- Weather appropriate clothes / umbrellas. You don’t want to dress like you are just walking from your car to the grocery store. Dress like you are going to an outdoor sporting event for an hour or more. Check the weather forecast as you get ready! Especially in the early spring or the late fall, it may not seem that cold until you’ve been outside shopping for half an hour.
- Cash. Many of the vendors are starting to use Square or another credit/debit card reader, but others still use primarily cash. The largest markets have a system in place where you can swipe your credit/debit card and get tokens to spend as well. I prefer to make sure I have enough cash to cover what I will likely purchase. Taking cash also prevents me from splurging on things I don’t need!
- A cooler or insulated shopping bag. If it is warmer than about 50 degrees and sunny, anything that you have in the car will heat up quickly, especially if you have been carrying it around the market for an hour. In the summer, put ice packs in as well. This also allows you to head to the grocery store after your market stop and finish out your list or make another quick stop before heading home. (Or, if you are adventuresome, to visit another market too!)
- A water bottle. Again, think of it like you are going to an outdoor sporting event. Many markets have free water, coffee, or things like that. I like to take my own though.
- A camera. I know, it’s probably in your phone, and I know you won’t leave that at home. Chances are you will see something you want to remember or research later, so have your camera handy to record it.
- Your smartphone. Right, I know. I don’t really need to tell you this. But if you need to research a recipe on the fly or look something up, it is handy!
- (All the kid stuff.) We take our kids to the market with us. It is just part of our family culture – what we do on Saturday morning. That said, we have to haul all the kid stuff. An extra water bottle or two is helpful, diaper bag and stroller if you have littles. (And let me tell you, a nice stroller doubles as an excellent farmers’ market shopping cart!) I try to avoid taking extra toys or snacks because they just end up on the ground.
So…are you ready to make your first foray out to a local farmers’ market? What did I miss? Are there other things that a new market shopper should do or plan to take before their first trip? What are your tricks for making a trip to the farmers’ market an enjoyable part of your weekly routine?