With the arrival of farmers market season comes opportunity for savings — and overspending.
Farmers markets can be a great way to save money while supporting local businesses, but you have to be careful.
For example, produce isn’t always cheaper at the market. And it isn’t even necessarily local.
These tips will help you get more for your money the next time you’re at a farmers market.
1. Know your options
One way to get better prices on produce is to get to know all the farmers markets in your area. Several directories can help you find them:
Don’t go too far out of your way just for a market, though. The added cost of gas can negate any savings.
2. Keep tabs online
If you find a place you love, ask if they have a website or Facebook page that you can track to keep tabs on new arrivals and discounts.
3. Don’t discount the grocery store
Sometimes produce is cheaper at the grocery store. So if price is paramount, read your local grocery stores’ weekly ads.
Doing so before heading to the farmers market keeps you from overpaying.
4. Come prepared
Make sure you bring bags and cash.
Some vendors might not have bags or might charge for them. Also, some vendors don’t accept credit cards.
5. Don’t assume it’s locally grown
There are two types of farmers markets, according to Organic Life magazine.
At true farmers markets, also known as producer-only markets, farmers sell produce they grew on their farms.
At farm markets, also known as produce markets, buyers resell produce they bought wholesale — and that is often from another state or country.
If supporting local farmers or buying the freshest produce possible is important to you, ask a market’s director whether it’s producer-only.
6. Buy in season
This rule helps ensure you get the best-tasting produce at the best price.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seasonal produce guide categorizes fruits and vegetables into the four seasons.
The nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s seasonality charts for fruits and nuts and for vegetables both categorize foods into months and can be downloaded as PDFs. They also indicate when foods can be found out of season.
When a food is in season can vary by region. To find out what’s in season in your state, check out the Sustainable Table food program’s seasonal food guide, which includes herbs.
7. Be flexible
Sticking to meal plans and shopping lists is a great way to save money. If you plan a dinner around certain veggies and find a deal on others, however, it pays to be flexible.
Build options into your meal plan, or use a mobile device while at the market to search for recipes that use the cheaper produce and call for ingredients that you already have at home.
8. Know what can be frozen
Buying produce in bulk doesn’t save as much money if it goes bad before you can eat it all.
If you find a steal on more bulk produce than your household could eat in a short time, make sure it can be frozen. The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website has instructions for freezing fruits and vegetables.
9. Choose wisely
Produce quality depends on how it is handled immediately after it’s harvested, according to Consumer Reports:
Quality can deteriorate quickly without gentle handling, refrigeration and careful control of the storage atmosphere and humidity.
The magazine recently published advice for picking produce that will last as long as possible — “How to Pick Perfect Produce.”
10. Consider alternatives
Farmers markets aren’t the only source of locally grown produce.
To find out if there are any on-farm markets or community-supported agriculture in your area, check the USDA’s local food directories.
For community gardens, check the American Community Gardening Association’s directory, or ask your neighborhood association or municipality.
To start your own garden, start with “Shrink Your Grocery Budget by Growing Your Food.”
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