We had the opportunity to spend some time this week with Orie’s Farm Fresh to learn more about what they grow, how they grow it, and how they eat it. We got a great recipe too that you can learn about near the end of the video!
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?
Arguably the most rewarding way to commit to shopping local is by engaging with a local farmer through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. One online advocate for shopping and eating local, LocalHarvest.org, describes a CSA this way:
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
Millennial farmers, especially first generation, not only hack their lifestyles in order to build sustainable farms and invest in their land, they also hack the technology they use to tend their fields. Though there have been many advances in the type of equipment and technology that farmers can utilize, sometimes using complex machinery can complicate the process more than help it. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been making, building, rebuilding, hacking, and tinkering with their equipment in order to make it more efficient at tending and harvesting crops (Wiens 2015). But with sustainability on the minds of many farmers today, additions like complicated computer systems installed in tractors can impede progress.
Hannah Becker, founding farmer of Willow Springs Farm in Franklin County Kansas, says that farm work is not for the faint of heart. Many full-timers also have “regular jobs” in the corporate sector in order to help pay the bills, feed their families, and purchase upgrades to help their agro food systems run more efficiently (Becker 2015). With the advent of new technology, John Deere has been producing top-of-the-line tractors since the early part of the twentieth century. This machinery helps farmers manage large acres of farm land allowing them to grow more crops and bring home more revenue. However, these advancements also come with frustration. Dave, a farmer in Ohio, wants to know how to do more than just change his tractor oil, but under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 he cannot tweak the computer system that controls the large apparatus (Wiens 2015). Under this proprietary law, if Dave changed the engine timing on his tractor he would become a criminal.
How do farmers get around this and still produce the food they need to in order be successful? According to Dorn Cox, a life-long agriculture enthusiast, “there’s an increasing number of farmers placing greater value on acquiring older, simpler machines that don’t require a computer to fix” (Wiens 2015). After taking a break from farming and working in the tech-startup industry, Cox took over a 250 acre farm and realized that he needed to help his fellow farmers adapt and take ownership of the tools of their trade. In 2010, he co-founded Farm Hack, an online community of farmers, designers, developers, and engineers who created an open source platform to help their community of farmers be better inventors and develop tools that fit the scale and their ethics of sustainable family farms (Gebhart 2015). Cox believes that “knowledge is free” and the Farm Hack community exists to release farmers from their dependence on factory machinery, encouraging them to rely on and contribute to a library of farming tools like low-tech farm bikes and remote controlled Arduino-powered compost monitors (Gebhart 2015).
Clearly, there is a generational difference between millennial farmers and their predecessors, almost all of the generation Y farmers are college educated and stem from a collaborative thinking community of hands-on training. Through experience they are learning that many of the tools they need to utilize are either too expensive or don’t exist at all. These farmers are hackers out of necessity. After all, new ideas often stem from mistakes and in a world where technology can improve almost anything it’s the collaboration that can help communities grow.
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