Grocery store shopping: Embrace Local Farmers’ Markets

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Eating gluten free and vegan is not always friendly on your wallet. One way to save money, as well as support the local farm community and find great produce, is to buy fruits and vegetables from your local farmers’ market.

Farmers’ markets are becoming increasingly common across the country. Depending on where you live, how large the markets are and how frequent farm markets take place can vary. Many Midwest and East Coast markets usually run regularly late spring through Thanksgiving, and I would imagine warmer parts of the country may have markets that run year-round. (I have not had experience in the south or out West, so if you know of how the farm market scene works in those locations please add your thoughts in the comments section.) What’s available will also change with the season. Expect lots of asparagus and berries in the spring, tomatoes and kale in the summer and potatoes and apples as you get into fall.

If you’ve never been to a farmers’ market, you should go.

As I eluded to, choosing to shop at the local farm market instead of a grocery store, has many benefits–one of the most noticeable being lower prices for fruits and vegetables. You can also make deals with the farmers if you are buying lots of items, and you can typically talk farmers into lower prices the closer you get to when the market ends.

Another benefit to farmers’ markets is that you can find a wide variety of super-fresh, super-delicious fruits and vegetables. Unlike at traditional grocery stores, the produce at markets comes from within a short driving distance from the market. So, the produce is fresher, which means it will last longer and taste better. It also means a lower carbon footprint. The amount of gas used to bring strawberries grown in a greenhouse at a local farm to market is much lower than the amount used to bring strawberries grown in California to a store in Michigan.

In addition, the goodies you find at farmers’ markets are not limited to just produce. Most markets also boast venders who sell baked goods, jams and jellies, honeys, juices, flowers, crafts and other handmade creations. If you’re lucky, you can find entirely gluten-free bakers. I’ve been to markets across the country, and with the rise of gluten allergies and intolerances, there seems to be a good chance of finding one.

Moreover, most farmers care about what they grow, and use good farming practices. Many are organic or close to being organic. You can also get to know the farmers, and develop relationships with them in a way that is impossible to do when you shop at a grocery store.

Here are a few of my tips for shopping at farmers’ markets:

Arrive early. Some of the most popular products will sell out early.

Bring cash. Most venders do not have card readers, so cash is essential.

Take a reusable bag. Trust me, those plastic bags get heavy fast and it only takes one pointy potato to rip right through and send the bag’s contents plummeting to the ground.

Make a loop around the market before you buy anything. This will help you find out what’s available and scope out which farmers have the best-looking produce and at the lowest prices.

Ask the farmers if they have any unusual produce. I have found veggies at farmers’ markets that I have never seen, or wouldn’t have sought out, in stores. As a bonus, you can also ask them how to prepare those veggies.

Most importantly, have fun. Every market is different, so you never know what you’ll find!

Japanese sweet turnips from a northern Michigan farmers' market.

Japanese sweet turnips from a northern Michigan farmers’ market.

Beautiful flowers for sale at a Kansas market.

Beautiful flowers for sale at a Kansas market.

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