One of the easiest ways to eat fresh, local food is to become a regular at a farmers market. But how do you find the right one for you? And how do you navigate it once you’re there?
Here are 9 ways to make the most of the market.
1. Find your favorite
The first step is knowing where to go.
- Pick Tennessee’s website offers a comprehensive list of Tennessee markets
- A quick Google search will tell you where the markets are near you
- You can stop by one you’ve driven by before, or
- You can do a quick social-media search to find out where you could be going that you may not know about yet. Restaurants and chefs often post about their favorite markets on Instagram, so that’s a good place to start.
If you don’t live near a farmers market, ask for the local produce section at your grocery store. Most stores have them, even if they’re not well-marked.
2. Don’t take a recipe
It’s OK to jot down a few things on a shopping list, but don’t box yourself in — the best way to get the most from a market is to see what’s fresh and find a recipe later.
If you do have a recipe you want to make, put foods in categories instead of nailing down specifics — think “leafy greens” instead of “Romaine,” or “fruit for cobbler” instead of “plums.”
3. Go early
It’s typically cooler and less crowded. Plus going early year-round is the only way to ensure the best selection.
4. Take a lap
Most markets are small enough that you can make a lap before you start filling your basket, which will let you see where the best strawberries or apples are before you commit to buying a bunch.
However there are exceptions to this rule, including large spaces like the Agricenter in Memphis where you’ll need to grab what you want as soon as you see it. If the vendor area extends past what you can see while standing in one spot, you may want to abandon this rule.
5. Ask for a taste
You can’t take a bite out of an apple, of course, but feel free to ask for a taste of smaller things like herbs or berries if the vendor isn’t too busy. If you’re going to buy a pound of apples for a recipe, however, the vendor might be willing to slice an apple so you can try before you buy.
6. Ask questions
Ask the farmers what they’re eating or what they set aside for their families. If the people growing something think it’s special enough to save, you probably will too. And if they’re eating it, they can give you advice on how to prepare it.
7. Smell and touch
One of the best ways to see if something’s fresh is to smell and hold it.
- You’re not looking for a rotten smell as much as you are making sure it has a smell. If it doesn’t smell like anything, it’s not ripe yet.
- Be sure your produce has some weight to it. Tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe — if your produce feels light or hollow, it’s past its prime.
8. Get the kids involved
Let each of your kids pick one fresh food item at the market to take home. Turn it into a game where they have to find something they’ve never tried before, or something that costs less than $1. They’ll learn to think of trying new, fresh foods as fun, and that sets them up to be healthier adults.
9. Give yourself time
Plan to spend at least 30 minutes at the market and up to an hour if it offers activities like cooking demonstrations, music and games, or if you can eat a meal while you’re there. The beautiful thing about a farmers market is that it’s a communal experience rather than just a place to check stuff off a list. Enjoy that and you’ll leave feeling refreshed as well as nourished.
For tips on how to prepare produce from your local farmers market, click here.