Tis the season for fresh produce, kettle corn vendors, fried pastries and local musicians to congregate in the center of our towns and parks. It's Farmer's Market time and it is undoubtedly my favorite part of summer. Learning the first full week of August is National Farmer's Market Week, makes these events all the endearing.
I've been attending Farmer's Markets for years from the Midwest all the way to the West Coast. I've seen them large and I've seen them small. I've known them to offer just fresh produce and I've wandered through isles intermixed with handmade crafts and food vendors. No matter their size, location or offering, they are such a wonderful opportunity to buy fresh, local, family goods.
Here in Southwestern Montana, we get a late start on the Market season. July 21st was our open this year and I couldn't wait to head in.
Our Market runs each Saturday from 8am till noon and into the month of October. I arrived around 9 and the streets of our downtown were already bustling.
Vendors shared seedlings for getting your own garden growing, produce (obviously), local honey, homemade bread and even butchered meat represented by many local ranchers. Inter-mixed were food vendors enticing passer-by-ers with fresh, sweet smelling donuts, pot stickers, noodles and more. My favorite, outside of the produce, are probably the musicians: a young violinist raising awareness and money for orphanages in Africa, children regaling shoppers with song and (my weakness) Dixieland hits pumping through loud speakers....
The highlight of my trip on opening day (other than the band) was the opportunity to meet this family from The Burnt Bean Ranch:
Selling freshly butchered meat, starter plants and produce, they truly represented a family affair. Dad even had his own special recipe for the locally popular Choke Cherries, infusing lemonade with their sweet goodness for a truly delicious and refreshing concoction. Kids assisted while mom and dad exchanged bags of goods for cash in hand. If you are at the Yellowstone County Farmer's Market, stop in and say "HI", tell them the blogger lady sent ya and be sure to toss back some of that great lemonade (and buy their other fresh goodies!)
Do you have a local Farmer's Market? Are you heading somewhere that does? I HIGHLY recommend checking out one of these fun, fresh, fairs if you haven't before. Here are some tips I have found helpful over the years:
Set a Budget and Bring Cash
Seems obvious but it is really easy to over-extend. Prices at farmer's markets are usually pretty fair and you can often get a better deal on produce at these local stands than at the grocery store. But a dollar here and a dollar there spends fast so set a firm budget and stick to it. Also, vendors will be happiest when you pay in cash, it makes their job easier.
Food Stamps (EBT) or WIC recipients...
Is your family tight in the cash arena? Are you on Food Stamps or WIC? Many local markets are now set up to honor food stamps and a lot of WIC offices will hand out Farmer's Market coupons redeemable on fresh produce and food producing plants. Be sure to ask.
Showing up at opening time often means less crowds and more options. Vendors will sometimes sell out of prime product as the morning/day dwindles on. Add to that the barrage of crowds which will begin to filter in the more time passes. As mentioned earlier, I arrived an hour after opening and the streets were already bustling! Don't let time deter you, though. Whenever you can pop in, your senses (and pocket book) will be rewarded!
Kids and Strollers always Welcome
Actually, I find myself looking with envy at strollers as they roll by... I remember the days well because all of my market finds were much easier to push in stroller under-baskets and shade tops than carried flung over my shoulder like they are now minus little kiddos! And don't shy away from bringing the kids (unless you are scraping for that peace and quiet time!) Farmer's Markets are a GREAT opportunity to get kids involved in the family's grocery purchases and excited about eating healthy...
- Have them help pick fresh vegetables to enjoy with dinner
- Be adventurous and willing to try new produce the kids might get a wild eye to choose!
- Let them hand the money to the vendor
- Encourage them to smell produce, especially herbs, and talk about what they are used for
- Prepare to walk slower and encourage questions and exploration
- Allow children to ask vendors about their products; how they grow, animals they raise, or items they make. Just be sure they aren't interfering with active sales.
Some vendors will offer taste samples, especially of sauces or homemade goods. Take them up on it, encourage kids to try and give feedback, even if you aren't planning to purchase. The family I mentioned above began pulling leaves off different Basil plants for me to try as we discussed the uses of the varieties they offered. Which is another great thing to know about your vendors: they are often experts of varying degrees in the products they are selling. If you don't know what to use a particular vegetable, fruit or herb for/in, ask! You may find an absolute treasure trove of knowledge on the other side of the produce table!
Bring your own bag and/or wagon
This isn't "required" but it is helpful. Vendors usually have plastic sacks (our market requires it) but even multiples of these can become cumbersome. Last year I lamented over getting rid of our old wagon some years ago when the kids outgrew it. Watching other Market-goers haul out pumpkins on deal, I knew I was woefully under-prepared to carry the orange orbs by hand all the way to my car!! But even in the summer season, you can become quickly over-laden with your finds.
Dress for success
Mind the weather report and dress accordingly. Don't forget a hat on sunny days and some sunscreen. It isn't just kids that get uncomfortable when not dressed for the weather, so can us grown-ups! You will enjoy your experience much more.
Get to know the vendors of some of your frequently visited booths. They may give you scoops on deals and upcoming offerings. You might even be able to build a rapport so as to obtain goods from them in the off-season. Especially where items like eggs and fresh meat are concerned. Talk to other market goers as well. If your market is a large one it can take half the day to locate the vendor with those great looking berries you see everyone with. So just ask, "Where did you get those?" and follow the directions.
Peruse first when possible
As I mentioned, some markets are HUGE. Portland's Saturday market when I use to attend years ago and Seattle's Pike's Place, could easily take the entire day to soak up! If your market is a bit smaller scale than, the first time you go, walk the grounds to see who is offering what and for how much. You will find most prices comparable but some may be better than others. You can also get an idea of what you want to expend your budget on so you don't spend it all at once and miss out on something you really needed or wanted!
I pray you find and have wonderful market adventures!
Do you have a farmer's market you enjoy visiting? Leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
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