Buy Local: Shopping at the Farmers Market - U of I Extension

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Buy Local: Shopping at the Farmers Market

This article was originally published on July 18, 2013 and expired on September 27, 2013. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Summer has finally arrived! And, the growing season in right in our neck of the woods. Did you know that Illinois ranks third in the nation for the number of Farmers Markets? "Shopping at the farmers market is one sure way to buy fresh locally-grown and in-season produce," says Drusilla Banks, Nutrition and Wellness Educator for the University of Illinois Extension. Banks offers the following tips for making the best of your local farmers market.

Dress appropriately

When headed to your local farmers market, dress comfortably and travel light. Check the weather report before you leave home and dress accordingly. The farmers market will be open come rain or come shine. A hooded jacket is better for a rainy day than trying to maneuver through the crowds with an umbrella and all your purchases. Wear clothes with lots of pockets; and on sunny days, wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Know the season

Don't go to the farmers market in July expecting to find pumpkins. If they are there, ask where they came from because they were not grown in Illinois. Do not expect uniform size in the produce selections either. Sizing is a supermarket tactic, but it is not the way things grow. You can print a beautifully illustrated chart of "What's In Season" free from the Illinois Department of Agriculture at: .

Be bold and try something new. You will find heirloom varieties that you may not have tasted before. Farmers can also tell you what they will be bringing to future markets as the season progresses. Be prepared by making a shopping list, but also allow for spontaneity.

Go early or go late

If you arrive early, the market will be less crowded and availability will be good. On the other hand, you may find bargains and reduced prices at the end of the market day. Most farmers do not want to take their goods back home.

How will you pay?

Although some markets are ready to take senior coupons, WIC coupons, and many have an EBT machine for accepting Illinois LINK, bringing cash is your best bet. Carry small bills and change in a pocket-size change purse. Some vendors are equipped and ready to take credit cards, but cash is ideal. Leave your larger purse at home or in your trunk.

Tour the entire market first

Stroll around and check out what is available and the prices. Most prices are uniform, but the varieties and quality may not be as consistent. Decide which vendor you will purchase from.
Meet the Farmers and ask questions

Shake hands and offer praise for the beautifully grown selections on display. Most farmers and family members like to talk to their customers. They are willing to talk about the variety of produce they have grown, how it was grown, how to store it, how to ripen it, and even how to cook it. They have a wealth of information.

You can even make arrangements to buy large quantities if you are planning an event. Buying in bulk can be a huge savings if you are planning to do some canning, freezing or drying. You may need to pay in advance. If you are looking for organic produce, ask the farmer how things were grown.

Take your own bags and containers

Berries get crushed, so take a ridged container or basket. If you plan to buy fresh-cut flowers, they should be placed in water for the trip home. Although some farmers market vendors have bags, very few have boxes. It is easier if you bring your own containers and reusable bags with handles. Make sure that they are clean. You are contributing to the most basic recycling cause by using your own cloth bags.

Consider a small cart or cooler on wheels

Even small bags can get mighty heavy as you walk through the Farmers Market. Places to sit and rest may be limited. Place a cooler or two in the car. Pack it with some ice or cold-packs to keep things at peak freshness. If you buy meat or eggs, they must be kept separated from produce and cool until you get home. Many types of produce like melons, corn, apples, will not need immediate cooling. If you use a cart, be considerate of other shoppers. There are lots open-toed shoes out there!

"Don't over purchase, Banks suggested. Eat it while it is fresh and return next week for more. Do some mental meal planning, even if you do not write it down. Don't buy more than you can eat in a week".

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact the Extension office at least two weeks prior to the event. University of Illinois Extension offers practical, research based programs that help people improve their lives and address critical community issues involving youth, families, economics, and natural resources

Source: Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness,

Pull date: September 27, 2013