By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau
Whether you’re a veteran of your local farmers’ market or trying one out for the first time this weekend, here is a series of practical tips to enhance your farmers’ market experience. Some of these tips are also from Denise Logan, farmers’ market manager for Arizona Community Farmers’ Markets. (Thanks Denise!!) Watch for another article on enhancing your visit to the produce section in your local grocery store next week!
1. Come early. For best selection of produce, arrive first thing so that you have first choice on the variety of produce you’ll see at your farmers’ market.
2. Bring change and small bills. Though more and more markets are set up to take credit cards, carrying cash is a must.
3. Talk to the growers. Ask the grower what’s new and how he or she uses their product (any recipes?). In fact, a farmers’ market continues to be one of the best environments to chat with your farmers and ranchers. They want to share their stories and they love to explain their production methods. You’ll be surprised at the invaluable information you gather on even the most common fruits and vegetables.
4. Ask about safety protocols. Ask the growers you meet if they have employed any safety practices to ensure the safety of their produce. Many growers have engaged in what is known in the industry as “best management practices” that include methods for keeping their produce free from pathogens in the harvesting and packing process. And if USDA certified organic, safety practices are required. Larger traditional agriculturalists also comply with safety standards.
5. Bring your own bags. Some growers also recycle shopping bags. But remember to regularly wash your bags.
6. Bring a cooler. Some smart produce shoppers bring a cooler on wheels to keep the produce fresh until it gets home.
7. Dress for the weather. Arizona summers are hot so wear cool clothes, a hat and sunscreen. Also bring drinking water.
8. Decompress and mingle! Markets are a great way to decompress and mingle with your neighbors!
9. Use the market as a place to plan your meal. Go to the market, and get inspired. Learn to shop and eat “seasonally.”
10. Buy a new item every once in a while. Ask the person next to you or the producer to give you some ideas on how to use it. Or, trust your intuition and take it home, taste it raw, steam, roast, and grill or stir-fry whatever is in season. This is one of the keys to creative cooking. Plus, farmers’ markets are one of the best places to discover unique and unusually produce.
11. Get the kids involved. Give them a few dollars and let them buy whatever produce they want and will eat. It’s a great way to make them responsible rather than you for eating fruits and vegetables.
12. Use your senses to find the best items. Smell, touch (gently) and taste. Our senses can be valuable in our discovery.
13. Bring a friend to the market. Turn someone else on to the rich satisfaction that can be found through the food and community at the Farmers’ Market.
14. Follow the chefs. If you live in a somewhat urban area or in the vicinity of a culinary school (think Scottsdale), chances are the chefs from your local restaurants or the student chefs will be shopping at the farmers market. You may see them in their kitchen whites on the prowl for the makings of the menu of the day. They have their eyes peeled for the freshest, most colorful and most unusual vegetables, fruits and flowers. They have their favorite vendors who can supply them with such treats. And if they discover you’re following them, just tell them you’re a fan!
Some come to the market as much for the fun, fellowship and people as for the quality produce you’ll find at an established market. If you’re not one of the “farmers’ Market Faithful that come out weekly to socialize, enjoy great music and celebrate Arizona’s local bounty, watch out. The bug will bite and you’ll find yourself a regular at your local farmers’ market.
Photo credit: Scottsdale Old Town Farmers Market