The Best and Worst Things to Buy at Farmers' Markets

By Camilla Cheung on 12 September 2014 1 comment

Farmers' market extremists will tell you to never set foot in a produce aisle again, while grocery loyalists will dismiss markets as overpriced and inconvenient indulgences. So who's right? (See also: 25 Things You Shouldn't Buy at the Grocery Store)

It turns out: both. It just depends on what it is you're buying.

Best Things to Buy at the Farmers' Market

These are the fruits and veggies (and other things), you definitely should pick up fresh from your local Farmers' Market.

Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries tend to be expensive at the typical grocery store, in part due to the thousands of miles they've traveled to get to the store. Fresh berries at your local farmers' market will be in better condition (perishable berries don't tend to do well in transport), will be cheaper, and will most likely have fewer pesticides and fungicides than imported or commercial varieties. Ask your grower whether the berries are pesticide-free — I tend to trust a farmer who can look me in the eye and vouch for his or her berries.

Most importantly, local berries, picked at the height of ripeness, are just sweeter and more delicious. Often you can find local varieties of berries that are tastier, but more perishable, so you'll never find them in a grocery store. Or you might discover the rare flavor of wild berries, foraged from the surrounding countryside.

Stone Fruit

Like tomatoes, most stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums) will ripen but not sweeten on your counter. That means that getting them when they are picked ripe is essential to getting the full seasonal flavor. In addition, stone fruit tends to get sprayed with a lot of pesticides. Ask your grower what their pesticide policy is and whether your fruit has been sprayed.

Avocados

Don't you just hate buying a bunch of rock-hard avocados at the supermarket, only to find out that they've gone bad by the time they've softened? Much of this is due to commercially-grown avocados being picked far too early (before the level of oils in the fruit have increased to the point where they are able to ripen) and then being transported in trucks where they are easily bruised. Worse, store refrigerators sometimes freeze fresh produce, causing it to go bad faster.

By contrast, buying avocados from a local farmer ensures that they have been picked recently. In my experience, avocados from my farmers' market last far longer, don't turn brown inside, and are far more buttery and rich than supermarket avocados. I also have my go-to "avocado guy," who helps me choose the perfect ripeness of avocados depending on when I want to eat them. And have you ever tried a Reed avocado? These huge, super-creamy avocados are rarely available in supermarkets, but they are my absolute favorite.

Rare or Unusual Vegetables

The farmers' market is the best place to try out a new fruit or vegetable that isn't typically found in supermarkets. Have you ever tried the delicate fractal buds of a romanesco broccoli? How about those unfamiliar Asian greens sold by the local Japanese family farm? Or have you ever wondered what a Buddha's hand citron tastes like? The grower is a great resource for asking how to cook and eat these intriguing new vegetables.

Flowers

This may seem like an odd thing to buy at a primarily food-oriented market, but pesticide-free cut flowers are a great thing to pick up on your shopping trip. Conventional flowers are usually grown with a heavy load of pesticides, which takes a toll on the workers involved. In addition, transporting fresh flowers isn't great for the environment. Buying seasonal, local, pesticide-free flowers is a great way to get some natural beauty into your home without harming the planet or other people.

Eggs

So-called "cage free" eggs at supermarkets are typically not well-regulated. Cage-free might simply mean that the chickens have a door open for a few hours a day. By contrast, at a farmers' market, you can ask the farmer directly about how the chickens are raised and what they are fed. Many local chicken farmers are proud of their "happy chickens" that live a humane life from birth to death, and that eat a more natural diet including foraging for grass and bugs.

Worst Things to Buy at a Farmer's Market

Now that you've stuffed your grocery totes with the good stuff above, turn up your nose at this stuff, which isn't so great.

Wilted Greens

The later in the day you come, the less fresh the vegetables will be. This is especially true of farmers' markets that attract growers from outside the immediately local area. Be discerning — just because it's at the farmers' market doesn't mean it's perfect. In addition, certain vegetables tend to do worse in the heat and sun — lettuce for example.

Unripe Fruit

It's best if you can taste the fruit before you buy, so you can make sure you get produce at the peak of ripeness. Most growers will have samples or will willingly cut you a slice. Make the most of your money and buy only the best, in-season fruit.

Fast Food

Unfortunately, the crowds at farmers' markets tend to attract food vendors, many of which don't exactly serve health food. Skip the overpriced hot dogs, funnel cakes, and burgers. If you're really hungry and need something immediately, I like to head for the mom-and-pop tamale stands, which offer (usually) homemade steamed tamales and fresh salsas, instead of the deep-fried junk.

Non-Food Items

Some larger farmers' markets also tend to attract non-food booths that sell gifts and knick-knacks. Be careful not to be suckered into an impulse buy of something that you don't need (I'm thinking potholders, jewelry, clothing, etc). Of course, a local craft item can be a fun souvenir if you're traveling, or a thoughtful gift for out-of-town friends, but in general steer clear of anything you didn't specifically come to buy.

What's your favorite purchase at your local farmers' market? Please share in comments!

0
No votes yet
Your rating: None
ShareThis

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


Guest's picture

This actually helps a lot. My wife likes to buy everything at the farmer's market, but I've noticed problems with a lot of the fresh greens. Never actually had her bring home "strange" fruit or vegetables, but now that I saw that photo (what was that?) I have to make sure I try new things!!! One thing she does get from the local farmer's market is fresh honey in varying flavors and it is SO good, and a great alternative to sugar.

Guest's picture
Guest

Local artists that are starting out quite often bring their goods to the farmers market. I love to buy the soaps and artistic items that are unique and pretty. Not sure why you told people to skip those.