Enjoy What Farmers Markets Have to Offer

North Carolina has seen tremendous growth in the number of farmers markets across the state. Each market offers unique flavors since they are typically community oriented and the products available represent the bounty of the region at any given time. Some markets are year-round, but most operate from April to October, with the occasional holiday market.

Some shoppers never depart from the grocery store aisles to see what is locally available, while others can’t imagine buying in-season produce from anyone but their local farmer. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, review the following shopping advice as the farmers market season kicks off this spring!

  • Go early. For the best selection and the freshest produce get to the market shortly after it opens. Some items may be available in limited quantity and some items may deteriorate in quality on a hot day.
  • Bring cash, including smaller bills and change. Many vendors do not accept credit or debit cards.
  • Bring reusable canvas bags or a basket to carry your produce. A backpack may be easier to handle if you plan to purchase heavy or bulky items. Consider an insulated bag or cooler with ice packs for long market trips.
  • Bring the kids (but leave the pets at home to avoid food safety concerns). Children are more likely to eat fruits or vegetables they’ve chosen. Always encourage kids to take advantage of the taste test samples. They may find a new flavor they like. Allow them to help with the food preparation when you get home.
  • Shop by season. Many markets only allow vendors to sell what they produce, which makes it easy to know what’s seasonally available. Other markets allow vendors to purchase produce that has been grown out of state (or even out of the country—think bananas). The easiest thing to do is ask. Remember, some growers are producing crops earlier and later than the traditional season by using greenhouses or high tunnels. They’ll be sure to tell you if that’s the case.
  • Plan meals ahead of time. You may easily remember that a broccoli casserole calls for broccoli, but don’t forget the onions, mushrooms and fresh herbs. Consider the quantity required for your family and purchase accordingly.
  • Try new things. If something new catches your eye, don’t worry about straying from the list. Ask the vendor for a recipe or preparation tips, or visit www.theproducelady.com for recipe ideas.
  • Be respectful of the prices. Avoid bargaining for small quantities. If you want a discount, ask the price of buying in bulk. Buying in volume works well if you are prepared to preserve the flavors of this season for later in the year by canning, freezing or dehydrating.
  • Head home after the market to protect your purchases. Fresh produce left in a hot car will be less than fresh if you run too many errands. Use a cooler for the most perishable items including greens, berries and herbs.
  • Return each week and enjoy the home-grown goodness all season!