Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How to save money at the Farmer's Market!

I've recently been to the Farmer's Market here in town for the first time. I've talked about going more than I have actually gone.

When I arrived, I found that the prices weren't really any better than at the store, but I'm always for supporting the local agriculture. I bought some fruit and vegetables....and lots of homeade jams and jellies. I can't help it...I love canned jams!

Here is are some steps I found about how you can save money when you go to a Farmer's Market :)

1. Research and locate both your nearest farmers' market and other nearby markets. In order to get screaming deals at the farmers' market, you first need to find it. Generally, farmers' markets run from early spring to late fall, but depending on where you live, your local market may be open a shorter time period or may be open year-round. Some markets are open daily during the season, while others are open only one or two days a week, most likely on weekends. If there are several markets in your area, you should visit all of them to find the best selection and best deals.

2. Learn more about the farms and farmers that attend the markets. Although not true for every market, there is a general rule that those selling agricultural products at the market are the very same people who grow or produce the items you are purchasing. Getting to know the producers / salespeople is your first step in building a lasting relationship with them and enjoying the great deals that can come from such a relationship.

3. Come to the market with a flexible palate. Often it is the case that common items (e.g. carrots, potatoes, and onions) are more expensive at the market than at conventional grocery stores. However, seasonal and specialty products that are outside of mainstream consumption (ethnic, heirloom, or rare vegetables, for example) can be purchased far below those prices demanded at the local supermarket. A flexible palate will not only introduce you to foods you never knew existed; you’ll also enjoy big savings.

4. Come to the market prepared to flatter. If there’s one way to a farmer's heart, it's talking food, especially talking about the food he or she grew. For instance, if you tell a vendor that you absolutely loved the way his or her heirloom Brandywine tomatoes complemented the basil you bought from him last week, there is a strong likelihood he or she will cut you a deal on your next purchase. The best reward to working all week in the field is to hear about how much a customer enjoyed eating the products a farmer grew. Farmers, like everyone else, appreciate compliments and knowing that their services make people happy.

5. Offer the farmers more than cash. Farmers are independent and sometimes unconventional. The nature of farming instills in nearly all farmers a strong desire and tendency for bartering. A farmer, like anyone else, specializes in a certain trade or skill. If you also have a skill or service that you can offer—website design, carpentry, tax preparation, etc.—a farmer may be willing to trade for your services. You may be able to get all your vegetables free during the summer in return for using your own skills to help your local farmer out.

6. When life gives you tomatoes, make tomato sauceAdd value to bulk purchases. Because most all vendors at farmers' markets grow seasonal products, there is often a large surplus of certain products at certain times. If you are willing to purchase large quantities of surplus items in peak season, you can add value to your purchase by saving seasonal food--by canning, freezing, or drying it, for example--for consumption out of season. For instance, the market price of raspberries is twice as much in winter as in summer. If you require a smoothie every morning, you can simply purchase large quantities in summer, freeze them, and enjoy savings as part of a complete breakfast. Make tomato gravy from those heirloom tomatoes, turn those beautiful onions into sweet onion marmalade, and dare to make pumpkin pie straight from the pumpkin.

7. Shop cooperatively with friends or family. You can save an incredible amount of money at the farmers' market if you buy in bulk. Consider going in with other people and purchase “cases” of food. Then, once you are home from the market, you can split up all the wonderful food just purchased at rock bottom prices!

8. Show up to the market on a regular basis, roughly 30 minutes prior to the close of market. Many of those who sell products at farmers' markets operate small farms and do not have the capability to store food for extended periods of time. After a long, hot summer day at the market, both the farmer and the produce are looking for a way to get home and cool down.

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