Did you know that Iowa has more farmers markets per capita than any other state in the nation? Yeah, I was surprised to hear that as well. We don't usually have more of anything per capita, unless you count corn or pigs!
If you are a seasoned veteran or a first-timer attending a market this weekend, here are 5 easy tips to help you get through the crowds, and let you leave feeling good about your purchases.
1. Go Early, Go Late - if the market opens at 7 a.m. be there when the bell rings. If you can't make it early, plan on heading there during the last hour. This is for many reasons. Getting there early will you get the best pick of the crop, and sometimes less of a crowd. Nothing will be picked over and you'll have free reign to chose whatever you want. On the other hand, getting there late can bring in the best deals. Remember, farmers want to get rid of everything, so they don't have to haul it back home. Bargaining comes in handy towards that last hour. Offer to give them $10 if they'll let you "fill your bag". More often than not, they will.
2. Know Your Seasons - become familiar with what grows in what season in your area. In Iowa, we would never buy sweet corn right now, because we all know it doesn't get picked until July/August. So if sweet corn is available, it had to be brought from somewhere else...probably far away. Whatever fruit/vegetable you see at every booth, is more than likely in season. Every farmer has tons of it, and they want to get rid of it, as they are probably up to their ears in it.
3. Cash & Change - come prepared with cash and quarters. Stop at the bank or ATM the day prior and stock up on $1, $5, $10 and quarters. This will be appreciated by the farmers, especially if you can give them exact change. It makes their lines shorter and their lives easier. Some booths do accept debit and credit cards, but don't count on it.
4. Bring reusable bags - this is a simple one right? Put your cloth bags in your car the night before so you don't forget them. Many growers supply plastic sacks, but really do we need them?
5. Plan meals ahead - if you walk into a market and start purchasing random items, you will come home look at your stash and inevitably not have any idea what to make with it all. Plan some meals and snacks out before you head there. Go to the market looking for certain items, then you will not be disappointed when you come home.
By following these simple steps, your farmers market experience will be great! And lastly, have fun! Make a day out of it - go with girlfriends, do lunch afterwards, enjoy being outside, and don't forget to buy yourself a treat.
I mean, what is a farmers market trip without a chocolate filled croissant, a fresh baked cookie, or bag of freshly popped popcorn for the ride home?