How to Shop the Farmers Market in 2021

We have been going to farmers markets for a long time—27 years as market vendors, and longer than that as shoppers—and would like to share some hints and tips on how to eat seasonally, with style.

One reward for all the work we do is the feedback we get from you at the farmers market. While Ann and I are no longer going in person, Elmwood Stock Farm’s team of Jenna, Mackenzie, Chris, Kevin, Ellen, Sarah, Quin and Josh gratefully receive your kind words and are excited to swap food stories.

Some folks come to the market with list in hand, while others start crafting menus in their heads as they explore the week’s offerings. We have been going to farmers markets for a long time—27 years as market vendors, and longer than that as shoppers—and would like to share some hints and tips on how to eat seasonally, with style.

  • Use a list as a means to stay on budget. It’s easy to get carried away with all the colors and smells going on at the market and make numerous impulse buys. The good news about impulse buying is that you will eat more fruits and veggies, as you should. You may share your excitement with friends and family by inviting them over for dinner, which may in turn encourage them to shop at the market. 
  • We have explained in other newsletters about the value of consuming organic foods, so please do not let the higher cost of our lamb, beef, pork and poultry deter you from taking them home. A slow-cooked chuck roast or smoked brisket, for example, is just as tender as filet mignon, and much more affordable. 
  • The single-biggest mistake we see people make is getting hung up on scoring a certain variety of an item, such as a certain variety of tomato. Usually these people approach the table with somewhat of a desperate look, if not frantic, depending on how many other vendors they have questioned. “Do you have Mortgage Lifter tomatoes?” they blurt out, often over other customers. We politely say, “no, sir”, but they usually don’t stick around long enough to hear that we have a nice comparable variety available instead. The short of it is, you can have a better farmers market experience when you yield what you think you need to what your farmers can offer.
  • Scope out the general appearance of the produce and the booth. Do the vegetables look fresh and clean? Are they neatly arranged, easy to identify, clearly priced? Does the overall look of the display have eye appeal? Look at how the produce was transported or packaged awaiting display. 
  • Is the vendor attentive and eager to assist you, seemingly proud of the products. Are they knowledgeable about the produce and/or how to prepare them?
  • Ask questions about production practices. This is one of the reasons we so believe in USDA organic certification and why you see the organic symbol displayed at the Elmwood Stock Farm booth: There is no good way to spin that highly toxic synthetic sprays were applied directly on the food you are about to consume. 
  • Ask when the produce was picked, and whether it was washed and cooled. We see the value of running produce through wash and rinse sinks for two reasons: to wash off most of the dirt that may be on the produce and to get the field heat out before going into the cooler to preserve freshness. Some things—like beans, peas, berries and okra—should never be washed but do need to be chilled. Tomatoes get hand-wiped but never chilled. All this effort is what allows the produce to last several days after you purchase it. Without this effort, the produce has a very short shelf life.
  • When packing CSA shares, we include a mix of ripe, ready-to-eat tomatoes and some that have a few days to wait. We suggest you shop for tomatoes at the market that way, as well, so they’ll last the week.
  • Shop the online store, if you know there is something that you want ahead of time. This is especially true for meats. As our organic, pasture-raised meat offerings have expanded, it’s not possible for us to bring every size of every cut of meat to every farmers market. We can if you place an online order to pick up for free at market, though. Give the online store a try, if you haven’t already!

As friends of Elmwood Stock Farm, we also want you to exhibit good farmers market shopping etiquette:

  • It’s one thing to want the beet bunch that is not on top. It’s another thing to mangle the display. Please ask for assistance if you cannot move a few to the side to access the ones you want. And never, ever place the ones you don’t want on top of the tomatoes or spinach or berries. This holds true for your purse and the melon you got from another booth. If your arms are full, we will gladly help you.
  • Tomatoes are not to be tested for firmness with your thumb or any other digit. Train your eye to the nuance of color shading. If you must touch them, gently place the palm of your hand over the tomato and gently begin to grip it like a ball to exert even pressure over the entire area of your hand. You will know right away whether there is any need to pick it up. Rings and jewelry are piercing tools, so please watch not to puncture the neighboring tomatoes. And please, do not drop them carelessly into your bag after being weighed, after all we have done to get them there, because they will be bruised when you get home and then you will blame it on us. 
  • We try hard to give children memorable farmers-market experiences, but they are not the best evaluators of quality. Help them learn about food, but please do not let them harm what we have worked so hard to offer. Likewise, it should go without saying, dogs do not need to be intimate with the produce.

Shopping the farmers market is a great way to revel in food. Try new foods and new recipes. Don’t hem and haw for five minutes on whether to try a $3 head of napa cabbage; buy it and try it! We are always willing to educate our customers about the difference between our varieties and the ones they may see in the supermarkets. We enjoy sharing and learning new cooking techniques with our customers. We are proud of the wholesome, certified-organic, appropriately washed and cooled produce and regeneratively produced meats that we take to town. We want you to enjoy them, too, so please, not only shop for taste, but with it. —Mac Stone

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