The more you learn about what’s in your food and how it’s grown, the easier it is to question the food you buy at the market each week. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Is it safe for me to eat? Can I afford it? Is the the only option I have to buy food for myself and my family?
Luckily, there are other places you can get your food and get the answers to your food questions. Farm stands and farmers markets are great, local alternatives to buying your produce and meeting the people who grew it. Farm stands and farmers markets are different than buying from your local grocery store, so let’s talk about what each are and how you can prepare and shop for your produce there.
What is a Farm Stand?
Farm stands come in a few different shapes and sizes. The most immediate obvious one is the small building you see on the sides of the road near farms that sell the excess of what they grow. This could be one specific crop of a variety of produce. Farm stands can also be pick-your-own farms where you can pick whatever food they grow on their farm by the pound. So what’s the common denominator between the two? They’re on or very close to the farm where the food is actually grown.
How Can I Find a Farm Stand?
You can find farm stands on Local Harvest and searching in your area. The Kitchn has also compiled a great list broken down by state of more websites to find farm stands in your area. Once you find a farm stand, see if there’s a phone number or website so you can call and check if they’re open when you want to go.
What Do I Need to Bring with Me?
If you’re shopping a farm stand, bring your reusable bags and maybe some smaller cloth bags if this stand has different kinds of produce. If you’re going to a pick your own farm, bring some large boxes or bags and maybe a few buckets depending on how much you want to pick. Also, bring some water, sunscreen, and maybe a hat for when you’re out in the sun picking. Depending on what you’re picking, you may need to bring some garden shears with you to help the fruit attach from the tree or vine. Regardless of if you’re going to a straightforward farm stand or a pick your own, bring cash.
What Can I Expect at a Farm Stand?
Farm stand produce varies from stand to stand. Some could have only one kind of produce, others could have a variety. Some can even have jams, honey, or other non-produce items the farm or farmers produce. Farm stands aren’t always for everyday grocery shopping, so still plan a trip to the grocery store to get other essentials you need.
Pick your own farms could be filled with lots of people looking for produce just like you. It will probably be pretty sunny and could be warm, so be ready for a little bit of work.
Depending on where you live, farm stands could be very common or they could be more like a special destination. Farmers markets are more ubiquitous and can be a place to do your weekly shopping.
What is a Farmers Market?
A farmers market is a big gathering of produce, speciality food, and prepared food vendors selling their food of the season. Some can be in a permanent building, like Pike Place Market in Seattle or Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, but most are temporary and held once a week in the same location all-year round or just for a season.
Where Can I Find One?
You can find farmers markets in your area on Local Harvest and on your city’s official websites. Once you find one in your area, do a little research to make sure it’s still active or happening at the time of year you want to go. Also see if there are any details on parking, whether you need to park a few streets down and walk or if you need to pay parking at a nearby structure.
What Do I Need to Bring with Me?
To get ready to go to the farmers market, here are a few essential things to bring.
- Reuseable shopping bags: You’ll be carrying what you buy, so having a strong and sturdy bag is helpful. If you have reusable produce bags, bring those too to cut down on your plastic consumption.
- Utility Cart: If you’re buying a lot of food or don’t like to lug things around on your shoulders, bring your small wire utility cart.
- Cash: Just like with farm stands, it’s safest to bring cash to the farmers market. Depending on your area, more vendors could accept cards, but it's a lot faster to have cash with you. Your farmer’s market could have an ATM on site, but be prepared for those extra fees.
- Shopping List: The most important things to bring with you is a shopping list. There are so many wonderful things at a farmers market (and no two are the same), that it’s easy to get sensory overload and just buy anything and everything, whether you actually need it or know how to cook it. If you bring a list of the ingredients you need for your meals or just for the week, you can focus on looking for those things and stay on track.
What Can I Expect at the Farmer’s Market?
If you haven’t been to a farmers market before, you can expect to see a lots of different and new produce and foods you don’t regularly see in your grocery store. Foods just coming into season can also show up at the farmers market a few weeks before they’re available in your grocery store.
Depending on the size of the market, you can expect other vendors selling more than just produce. Some markets have fresh cut flowers, meat or fish from locally raised animals, bread, eggs, honey, and maybe beauty or snack vendors. There could also be vendors selling juices, milks or prepared foods like hummus, salsa, or broth. You could also see food trucks or local restaurants selling food you can enjoy at the market before or after shopping.
Until you get familiar with the farmers market in your area or the one you’d like to visit on a weekly basis, still assume you will have to go to grocery store for additional staples like grains, beans, and dairy. Farmers markets are driven by the local produce grown in your area, so there could be produce you’re used to buying at your grocery store. It’s very common for grocery stores to import food from other states or countries to meet with customer demand.
Tips for Navigating a Farmers Market
- Early Bird Gets the Worm: Farmers markets can get really crowded. To avoid long waits and get the best selection of produce, go when it opens. Some markets have vendors ready to sell before the advertised start time, so you can get first pick. The earlier you go also means you can get a close parking spot if you have to drive.
- Take it All In: Once you’re there, before buying anything, walk the whole market and look at every stall. This way you can see who’s selling what and which vendors you’ll want to get your produce from. Walking it ahead of buying can also give you the flexibility of changing your meal plan if you spot something that really grabs your attention.
- Try the Samples: A lot of vendors offer samples of some of their food so you can better decide what you want. Don’t be shy and try as many samples as you want! Not only does it help you figure out what you’re buying, you get to try new foods and flavors at their peak season, when they taste the best.
- Ask Questions: Not sure what variety to buy or what that vegetable is over there? Ask one of vendors for their help. They’re very knowledgable of what they’re selling and can help you discover new foods and narrow down your decision. Their favorite food in their booth could become yours. If their booth isn’t clearly labeled with an organic certification (which can be common), ask the vendors if they use pesticides or spray. An organic certification and converting to be an organic grower can take several years, so it’s best to ask how they grow before assuming no certification means they spray. Some can’t afford the certification but still don’t spray, which means you can still feel assured that you won’t be eating pesticides.
Whichever you get to visit, farm stand or farmers market, have a good time. Ask questions and open yourself up to learning new things and eating delicious, locally grown foods. Connecting with the people and place that grew your food can give you a deeper appreciation of your food, and most of the time it tastes so much better.