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Four Reasons to Shop at Farmer’s Markets

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Every Thursday outside the local library, there’s a farmer’s market. About a dozen farms come to participate and sell all manner of fruit, spices, vegetables, cookies, pies, breads, and almost anything else you can think of. It’s really a delight to walk over, chat with the proprietors, and pick up some produce (and some pies) on the cheap. Farmer’s markets are a great way to save money, support your local businesses, and help out the environment all at once. Here are four reasons why we shop at our local farmer’s market.

The Reasons

Supporting Local Business
If you want to complain about Wal-Mart closing down Mom and Pop shops, you’re the perfect candidate to shop at your local farmer’s market. Supermarkets have been shutting down local farms for years, so supporting local farmer’s markets is the best way for you to support your local farms.

Local businesses also have a vested interest in the improvement of the community. Sure the corporations care a little bit about the neighborhoods they’re in, but it’s not on the same level as actually local business owners who live and breathe their livelihood in the area.

Better Buying Experience
At the market it’s often the owner’s family running the stands. It’s a lot of fun to chat with them about what they do, about the farm, and learn more about the things sitting on the table. You’ll find out whether the strawberries you’re buying are too tart for straight eating and would do better in a pie. You’ll learn how to tell if something is ripe or whether you should let it sit for a little bit. Those aren’t things you can get from the disinterested employee stocking shelves at the supermarket.

Conserve Fuel
You personally save fuel by visiting a local market instead of the supermarket, especially in my case where I’m able to walk to the store, but the bigger picture fuel savings is in the transportation of the produce. Since fuel prices have been so low for so long, we got used to buying out of season fruits and vegetables because we could important them from places where they were in season. Now that prices have substantially increased, we’re finding out of season produce to be much more expensive than they used to be, which can be a good thing. By buying local, you ensure you’re getting something that was produced relatively close by and thus has cost less fuel to get to your table.

It’s not 100% though, sometimes the farmer’s market vendors branch out so they can provide more of a one-stop-shop experience. Usually they’re selling all their own stuff though.

Saving Money
The local Giant Food supermarket and the farmer’s market are within walking distance so one day I did a price comparison. In every single case, the fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s market was cheaper. Squash, zucchini, roma and beefsteak tomatoes, green peppers, radishes, garlic, plums, apples, strawberries, and few others were all cheaper. The supermarket had a wider selection (no one at the farmer’s market last week had orange, yellow, or red peppers) of course but the prices were all several cents higher per pound.

I was actually surprised by this. When you look at Kona coffee, produced with American labor being paid at least minimum wage, you’re paying around $20-30 per pound. When you look at Colombian coffee, produced with non-American labor not being paid minimum wage, you can find prices under $10 a pound. The disparity is amazing in that market. I would expect that the same market forces govern the produce industry but I suspect that local farmers are simply taking in less than minimum wage for their work, which is even more reason to support them. (I don’t really know, I’m just supposing as once would at the dinner table)

Finding Farmer’s Markets

So, you’re sold on farmer’s markets, how do you find them? I would check with your state’s Department of Agriculture or simply relying on Google (search for “farmer’s market + state”). In Maryland, the Department of Agriculture has a list of the state’s farmer’s markets so you’ll want to look for something similar in your state.

Tips for Shopping

Here are a few tips on shopping:

  • Check the size of the market first. The market by us is a decent size for our area with a good mix of produce, baked goods, and jams. Some markets would make our dozen vendors look tiny, especially markets out on the west coast, and so it’s good to get an idea of how big the market normally is. If it’s too small, it might not be beneficial for you to go.
  • Bring reusable shopping bags or just regular bags. It’s good to be ecofriendly but introducing another plastic bag into the wild is a bit counter productive! I just bring a backpack and throw my stuff in there.
  • Bring small bills. You probably won’t be spending a ton of money at any one stand and having the vendor break a $20 for a $2 purchase can put a damper on their change situation.
  • Talk to them. Ask them about the fruit, ask them about good ways to prepare them. They love talking about it because it’s their life and their baby plus they can give you wonderful ideas.
  • Save your containers. Sometimes the fruit comes in little cardboard containers so we’ll save those to bring back and return to the vendor. We don’t get anything for it but it’s better to reuse something than it is to recycle or toss it.

If you have any more tips or any good reasons I missed, please share in the comments below. As for me, it’s Thursday so I’ll be heading over to the market! We’re going to pick up some squash and zucchini and get together the stuff we’ll need for a little zucchini bake. :)

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9 Responses to “Four Reasons to Shop at Farmer’s Markets”

  1. Everyman says:

    The best part? Farmers Market food TASTES better!!!

  2. Chris says:

    Nice post.

    I’d also recommend people understand going into a Farmer’s Market what they are looking for. Sure, in terms of food etc. But I really mean: are you looking for local? organic? CHEAP?

    Prices vary, so if you are doing this to save money, then make sure you go with a price list (or like my wife, have every price of everything ever memorized). The farmer’s market by me is NOT cheaper, we were actually very much let down because we thought we could help ourselves and others. We’ll get a few things here and there, but unless prices equal out better given our options, we won’t buy a lot there.

  3. David says:

    Food at Farmer’s Markets don’t have to be trucked over 1500 miles, like most of the food we eat from the grocery store – it’s fresher!

  4. Hawkmoon Nine says:

    The local farmer’s market here is quite a bit more expensive than the grocery store.

  5. cap'n cman says:

    For the most part, the produce is definitely cheaper at the FM in Dallas and far superior in appearance and flavor when compared to the grocery stores. I have almost completely stopped purchasing produce from the grocery store, except for the occasional organic apples and potatoes from Whole Foods and certain other things like avocados from a nearby Mexican grocer. For example, I was at a nearby Tom Thumb looking at bell peppers to see they were ~$2.19 each. I held off and went to Farmers Market the following day to pickup a bucket of 2 green bell peppers, an orange and a red for $3 total. The same goes for local blueberries, tomatoes, etc. Plus, all the free samples is a meal in itself.

    Oh, and my new vegetable garden planted last spring has produced nicely. We’ve been getting plenty of great lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, green bell peppers, serrano peppers, cherry tomatoes and a number of herbs. Looks like the cluster tomatoes are really about to produce soon, too. Plus, it’s a fun hobby!

  6. EN says:

    I took your tip and searched my area and found one RIGHT DOWN THE STREET.

    I don’t know how I’ve missed it this entire time (I am surprised and ashamed simultaneously) and so I’ll definitely be dropping by this Saturday.

    I’m crossing my fingers hoping our market isn’t expensive like the comments above talked about.

  7. Patrick says:

    Farmers’ markets around great. Most of the food is either organic and grown using sustainable methods. It just tastes so good too. Everything is fresh and doesn’t have all the pesticides the stuff at the grocery store has. Check out http://www.ams.usda.gov/FARMERSMARKETS for a farmers market in your area.

  8. This post has been chosen as part of the 69th Carnival of Money Stories at Almost Frugal, going live July 22, 2008.

  9. A says:

    I’m always envious when people go on about how farmer’s markets are less expensive than grocery stores, because where I am, it’s not at all true.


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