As a grower, a farmers market sales person, and a cook, I’m something of a guru in the realm of finding the very best fresh produce the farmers market has to offer. Today, I’d like to share my wisdom with you. With these five tips, you’ll be getting the best the market has to offer.
1. Arrive early. Show up a few minutes before the market is officially open. This will give you an opportunity to avoid the crowds, beat the heat, and see everything that’s gorgeous, while the farmers are still setting up. By opening time, you will know exactly what you want, and you can be the first in line to grab it. Produce is at its freshest first thing in the morning, before it gets hot. Not only that, the yummiest items are normally gone by later in the day. The market early bird gets the best produce.
2. Buy what’s in season. Buying produce seasonally assures that you will be getting your veggies at the height of freshness, taste, and quality. Trying to buy produce out of season normally results in inferior taste. Kale, for example, is a cool season crop and is at its sweet finest in the fall and spring. Summer kale isn’t nearly as sweet. Likewise, winter greenhouse tomatoes, will never taste as good as tomatoes picked at their peak in June.
3. Look for signs the produce is really fresh. If the cut end of a stem is browning, the item might be more than a few days old. The cap (calyx) on a strawberry should be green. Brown caps are bad news. Tomatoes should be firm with no watery spots. It is alright for tomatoes to be odd colors, because many of the tastiest heirloom tomatoes naturally have all sorts of colorful streaks. Peaches should be firm, but not hard-as-a-brick. They should also smell heavenly. And, speaking of smells, if you notice mold or an off smell, move on to something different. But DON’T move past slightly-wilted produce. Even the freshest leafy vegetables can begin to wilt after just a few minutes sitting on the table. After you take them home and wash them in cool water, they will normally perk back up.
4. Know your farmer. Know your farmer so well that you can check out his/her Facebook page, Twitter, blog, etc. Get on his/her mailing list to see what he/she is planning on bringing. If you are a regular customer, chances are you can email him/her ahead of time and get him/her to pack your bag and have it ready for you when you arrive. Just be sure if you pre-order something, you show up to get it. A bag of wasted produce is the perfect way to convince your farmer to never save you anything else. There will be a post coming soon, with specific questions you can ask at the market, which will also help you know your farmer.
5. Be a regular, even if you just swing in to say hi and buy a bag of lettuce. Farmers know who their regular customers are and will do almost anything to keep them happy. Want to be sure you have those five pounds of just cut asparagus for Mother’s Day? Tell the farmer who normally brings asparagus what you need. A happy customer is just what the farmer wants, and the best produce in the market for you. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
Wishing you and yours many fruitful trips to your local farmers market!