by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed.org
The advantages of farmers markets are many. The quality is typically top-flight. Items are sourced from local and regional producers — many of whom use sustainable or organic methods — and most vegetables and fruits are at the height of freshness. You get to know the folks responsible for the offerings. And let’s face it, most farmers markets make shopping a lot more fun than going to the supermarket.
There is one factor that stands out as an inhibition for some people, though — the perception that shopping at farmers markets is too expensive. But that ain’t necessarily so.
New York Times food journalist Mark Bittman noted this in a piece published Aug. 5 to mark National Farmers Market Week. This is something that I already knew, as a budget-conscious shopper who visits farmers markets once or more each week.
So when I visited Chicago’s Green City Market on Saturday, my focus was specifically on hunting for bargains, and I found plenty. Here are some tips from my “research.”
● Don’t rush — tour the market first. Take a stroll around and see the prices different stands are charging for the items on your shopping list. All of the vendors have high-quality goods, but if you’re shopping for price, it’s frustrating to discover that you were hasty and missed a bargain.
● Some stands stand out on pricing. Savvy farmers market shoppers will quickly figure out which stands go out of their way to be consumer-friendly. For example, Illinois’ Smits Farms sells big bunches of greens, such as kale, and herbs for as little as $1 apiece.
● Look for bulk discounts. Many farmers market stands provide a price break if you buy multiple items. For example, Green Acres Farm of Indiana sells summer squash (zucchini and yellow) for $1 apiece, but three for $2 (bringing the price down to 67 cents each). Nichols Farm of Illinois sells beautiful green bell peppers for $1 apiece, but four for $3 makes them 75 cents each. Many fruit stands will give a discount if you buy more than one container, and quite a few allow you to mix and match to get the bulk price.
● Buy seasonally. When an item is at the peak of its season, there is likely to be more of it — especially if it is a prolific growing year for that crop — and some stands may lower their prices to make sure as much as possible gets sold.
● Buy the large “economy size.” If the per-item price is fixed, you can stretch your dollars by selecting one of the larger of that variety. For example, Nichols on Saturday sold melons for $3 each. I picked out one that could meet a family’s fruit needs for maybe a week: about as big as a cannonball and almost as heavy. Weighing in at nearly six pounds, this melon averaged to about 50 cents a pound.
● Become a regular. O.K., I hope I’m not giving away any trade secret here, but if you get to know producers and buy regularly from their stands, you are more likely to get a personal discount. That is also true if you introduce your friends and family to become customers. It works in bars and restaurants, so why not at farmers markets?
We’d love to hear about great prices you have found at your local farmers markets, or any additional tips you have to share. Please use the comments section below.
Photos by Bob Benenson