It’s pretty simple; eating this way is better for you, your neighbors, and the environment. It's amazing how different foods taste when ingredients are in season and freshly picked. You will be stunned at how sweet a ripe carrot can be or how crisp a salad can taste with fresh greens. Farmers’ Markets are in full swing, and even if your morning mantra isn’t “be green, eat local, go organic,” there are lots of healthy benefits to shopping at the local farmers’ market. There are friendly vibes and sweet deals, but navigating the market can be intimidating, especially for newbies. Here are a few know-before-you-go tips that will have you shopping like a health pro:
Tips for Your First Trip to the Farmers’ Market
- Early bird gets the worm (or best fruits and veggies). Check your local farmers’ market website to see what time the market opens. Like great restaurants, good farmers have very devoted fans and may sell out of food.
- Ask questions. Get to know your local farmer and don’t hesitate to ask about his or her farming methods, tips for cooking, or any chemicals they may or may not use.
- Look for certified organic or certified sustainable farmers. Certification means that farmers use natural methods and avoid chemicals that could harm your health and the environment.
- Don’t settle. Shop around, and avoid the tendency to buy the first thing you see. A lot of vendors carry similar produce; compare prices, ripeness, etc.
- Bring your own reusable bags. Most farmers’ markets don’t have grocery bags. Also, don’t forget the chilled bags for your meats!
- Check out what’s in season. Consult with the Local Harvest Calendar to see what’s in season, and then plan your menu accordingly.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Farmers are helping to keep heirloom varieties around (most of which aren’t sold at a typical grocery store anymore) so they may look strange at first glance. Personal tip – don’t be scared of purple carrots!
- Taste test. Never tasted an Asian pear? Most vendors have samples out, but if not, ask to taste the fruits and veggies to make sure they’re fresh and to your liking.
- Educate yourself. The terminology can be confusing, so become familiar with the lingo (cage free, artisan, natural, etc.) Click here to learn more.
Personally, I shop around and think local first, sustainable second, and organic third, but these things are all intertwined. For instance, I would much rather buy conventional, local apples than organic apples from Peru. In addition, organic foods can be expensive, so I use the Dirty Dozen Guide from the Environmental Working Group to choose where my money goes with organics. I hope these tips and suggestions will get you out on Saturday morning to explore your local farmers’ market, and try something new that you can't find at the local grocery store! You will taste the difference AND give back to your community! Click here to find your closest farmers' market.- Blair Blair RD, LDN, CHD, Director of Health Coaching