Farmers Markets

15 Tips for Navigating the Farmers Market

June 17, 2015

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: We take our farmers marketing seriously, and do it often enough that we've learned a thing, or two. Here are some of our favorite tips for visiting the market.

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The Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan is about ten blocks south of our office, so needless to say, we're there a lot. We visit the market to pick up last-minute ingredients for photoshoots, scope out adorable vegetables, and go to book signings. Along the way we've even learned a thing or two about saving money getting the best meat and produce, and enjoying ourselves in the process. Here are 15 ways to be a savvier farmers market shopper, starting before you even head out the door:

Before you go:

1. Learn about different types of produce. One editor learned this tip from Deborah Madison, who says to learn your favorite types of produce you buy often, like apples or oranges, so that you'll buy the stuff you like time and time again rather than having no idea what the really good apple you had last time was.
2. Bring plenty of cash. Meat and fish can be expensive at the farmers market and many stalls only accept cash, so make sure you're prepared. You can always re-deposit or save whatever you don't spend.
3. BYO bags. A big farmers market run can mean lots of plastic bags. Don't let them go to waste—bring your own reusable bags, instead!
4. Make sure to pack light. Farmers markets can get crowded, so avoid bumping into everyone and leave your extra-large backpack and bicycle at home.
5. If there's something buzzy that just got to the market, wait a week before you buy it. This tip comes from our VP of Commerce, Christina, who got excited two weeks ago about strawberries returning to the market, then realized that they were $8 per pint and watery, while the next week they were down to $7—and sweeter.
6. Grab a friend. Four eyes are better than two—a friend can help you scope out the produce you might have otherwise overlooked and will turn your shopping trip into an outing!
7. Go early. The best produce is available first thing in the morning, so be sure to get to the market as close to when it opens as possible.

When you arrive:

8. Start by walking around the entire market. This is a good way to check out prices, see what's available, and solidify your menu plan before diving in.
9. Go to the fish stalls first. According to our COO, Bridget, the fish sellers are often the first to run out, so make sure to prioritize them if you're counting on grilling fish for dinner.

Once you get going:

10. Get to know the farmers. Not only will this make shopping a more enjoyable experience, but you'll be able to gather valuable information from them, like when fava beans or eggplant will be showing up. And, if you're extra nice, they may start bringing you special treats.
11. Go at the end of the day to save. At the end of the day, farmers often offer what's left over, particularly soft things like peaches and tomatoes, at reduced prices. Purchasing the slightly bruised or smushed produce at a lower cost not only helps the farmers out (they don't have to throw as many things away), but it also means you can make jam or tomato sauce economically.
12. Ask about unfamiliar things. If you've never tried a persimmon before or are unsure about how to cook with ramps, the farmers market is the best place to voice your questions. Ask the farmer about any produce you're unfamiliar with, then bring it home and experiment! Who knows, ramps just might be your new favorite thing.
13. Buy things that bruise easily or wilt quickly last. Purchase your fragile produce at the end so it doesn't wilt while you walk and can sit safely at the top of your bag without getting crushed by its cousins.
14. Don't limit yourself to produce. Some of the best parts of farmers markets are the flowers and ready-made food (bread, hummus, and so much more). Our Community Manager, Madeline, is particularly fond of the eucalyptus sold at her local Fort Greene farmers market. It makes her entire apartment (and the whole block surrounding the market) smell amazing.
15. Ask about pre-ordering. Some stalls offer pre-order options so that you can grab your bag of goodies right when you get there—sort of like an offline CSA.

What are your tips for navigating the farmers market? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by James Ransom 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Matilda Luk
I eat everything.


elizabeth17 August 31, 2022
I love the tote bag in the photo at the top of the article. Can you tell me the brand, or when I may purchase it?
J August 19, 2022
Great piece, great tips! I LOVE my Farmers’ Market: at least two of my favorite farmers would call 911 if I didn’t show up some Saturday. I disagree only with #5 (don’t buy buzzy new stuff): I love grabbing 2 bunches of the first asparagus of the season! This year I got the first baby eggplants because, I learned later, our region has been blighted by eggplant bugs and those may have been the only eggplants available. I fill a bag with the first tomatoes to appear; likewise with the first sweet onions. I eagerly await the first sweet corn of the season. Granted, I live in the middle of U.S. rural nowhere, so I don’t think there’s any difference in price between my “first of the seasons” and later weeks, but can readily understand that may be the case in Manhattan. May I add another tip? I notice that this was a pre-pandemic article. During the pandemic, I established debit accounts with 3 of my favorite FM vendors (I had a debit CSA with the fourth for years), so that no cash need be exchanged. Two of those debit accounts still exist today; the other two now prefer cash. Still, it’s worth asking whether your repeat vendors would welcome a “debit CSA” account. Smart vendors know that these accounts also create customer loyalty, so a win-win for all.
arfinannie June 25, 2015
Regarding #10 (and #12) -- The farmers I know really appreciate it when their customers bring *them* treats. These don't have to be related to the items you bought from them, but if you've made sauce or pickles, your farmer would love it if you brought them a jar. Farming is incredibly hard work, and farmers need to feel appreciated!
Matilda L. June 18, 2015
About #5: sometimes it's about local weather--if it's been rainy in your area, strawberries and tomatoes will be watery, spinach, lettuce and asparagus (and other low to the ground produce) will be extra gritty.