Lessons learned from shopping at farm market stands and farmers markets

Shopping for food at Michigan farmers markets and farm market stands provide food, an outing with your family and supports the local economy.

Rhubarb is currently in at farmers markets across Michigan. Photo credit: Diane Brady l MSU Extension
Rhubarb is currently in at farmers markets across Michigan. Photo credit: Diane Brady l MSU Extension

The summer season has been officially kicked off in the United States with its Memorial Day holiday as its marker. Most farmers market and many farm stands are also officially open for the season; some Farm markets go even further and offer other entertainment such as petting the farm animals and events. Fresh asparagus and mushrooms abound right now, as well as extended-season vegetables such as potatoes, apples and onions. Rhubarb is also in, and you can soon start looking for strawberries, peas, herbs and spring flowers.

Some of the lessons that I have learned from shopping for Michigan local foods at farm stands and farmers markets may help you as well.

  • Bring your own bags and cartons. There may be some available, but they are usually recycled plastic bags. Also, fruit and vegetables are often displayed in a basket or container but then unceremoniously transferred into a bag at the time of purchase. If you bring your own quart baskets or clam shells for berries and the like makes transporting these tender fruits much easier. If you are buying bulk quantities a portable shopping cart, wagon or cooler on wheels is helpful.
  • Cash means convenience. Have enough cash for your purchases. While some larger farm markets and farmers market stalls are capable of taking your debit or credit card, most are not. Certainly not those quaint vegetable stands and hay wagon loads of seasonal produce along the roadside. These sometimes do not even have an attendant requiring “on your honor” purchases with exact change to be dropped into a secured box.
  • Wear good walking shoes. This allows you to take your time and view several vendors before making that final purchase decision with a measure of comfort. While prices are usually comparable at various booths, who does not want to get the best price? Be careful to compare quality as well as price; it is expected that better items will command a better price.
  • Know what is in season in Michigan and what extended-season foods are. If it is an option for you to can or freeze your own food, this is when to plan to make a bulk purchase for that purpose. For example: I cannot grow peaches, but I can purchase a bushel of peaches from the farmers market. I can grow tomatoes, so I just purchase specialty varieties at the farmers market. Some markets also offer non-local foods like coffee and oranges; and home baked goods, eggs and frozen meats too.
  • Talk to the farmer and stand attendant. These people are often knowledgeable about the food, and how to prepare the food if it is something new to you. They are often happy to provide additional information about how it was grown and picked, and how to determine ripeness. Getting to know your farmer can save you time the next time you visit the market. You can go right to your favorite vendor.

Shopping at the farmers market can be a pleasurable family experience. For more information about local foods, community food systems and food hubs contact Michigan State University Extension Community Food System educators who are working across Michigan to provide community food systems educational programming and assistance.

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