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How to Shop at a Farmers Market

January 3rd, 2013 Personal Finance

In order to get the best quality for your money, sometimes it's better to go to your local farmers market rather than the grocery store. You'll get fresher produce that's likely tastier and more nutritious because it was allowed to ripen on the plant instead of being harvested early to account for transportation time. You're also helping local farmers get fair prices for their crops and supporting the reduction of fuel emissions by eliminating the need for trucks to carry the produce long distances. Here are a few tips from Real Simple magazine and KVAL.com to help you get the most out of your shopping experience.

1. Go online to find a farmers market near you. Tons of cities and towns offer these markets on a regular basis and you can even find one based on what you're looking to buy. You'll be surprised to know how many are within your reach.

2. Find out which products are in season, then plan your recipes accordingly. You can do this by researching online or just asking the growers themselves, who know all about their merchandise. If you find something you'd like to try, but aren't sure how to incorporate it into a recipe, someone at the market is sure to have ideas for you.

3. Bring a strong tote bag rather than the plastic variety so you won't be hindered by the weight or lack of space.

4. Unlike grocery stores, farmers markets are more about taste and nutrition rather than cosmetic perfection. Even if a fruit or vegetable is misshapen or blemished, it's still probably healthier than what you'd find at the supermarket.

5. If you're looking for organic food, make sure to ask vendors how they grow their crops. Many will have certifications, but, according to Real Simple magazine, it takes about three years for farms to become certified, which means some farms that are organic simply aren't certified yet. It comes down to whether or not you trust what the farmer is telling you.

6. Consider your timing. If you go to the market early, you'll be able to choose from the best items, but if you're looking to prepare a meal which doesn't require perfection, consider arriving later. You can get damaged goods for reduced prices at the end of the day, and they're still perfect for making sauces, soups or baked goods.

7. To ensure that you're getting local, fresh products, ask the vendor where the crop was grown and who grew it. Sometimes people show up with goods that were purchased from wholesalers or from distant farms, which won't be as fresh and aren't supporting your community.

8. Ask the farmer when the goods were harvested. Some fruits and vegetables lose their sugars after a day or two of being picked.

9. Bring cash with you, as some vendors don't accept credit or debit cards.

10. When a fruit or vegetable season begins, it's best to wait a week or two before you start buying them, suggests KVAL.com. This is because the first picks of the season aren't always the best.

No matter what you buy, or if you end up not buying anything at all, farmers markets are great places to bond with members of your community and learn about new products and how to incorporate them into your meal plans. Not to mention, you'll be getting the most bang for your buck.