Make the rounds before you buy anything. See who has what, and at what price and quality. Taste and compare different vendors' peaches or melons. Then make your selections, secure in the knowledge that you won't find tastier and cheaper items at another stand.
Buy something you haven't tried before. A farmers' market is a great place to get educated about food, if you make the effort. Never cooked kohlrabi? At the farmers' market, a grower can advise you on how to select and prepare it.
Take your own canvas or net bags or baskets. Farmers' markets rarely provide shopping carts. Wide woven baskets are ideal because tender fruits and vegetables don't get piled on one another. As you add to your purchases, make sure to shift the heavy items to the bottom. To avoid squashed berries and flattened tomatoes, consider shopping with several bags or baskets.
Plan to go straight home after your shopping expedition so you can put away your purchases. Don't leave ripe berries, sweet corn, tender spinach—or anything—sweltering in the hot trunk of your car. The heat will suck all the life out of them. If you can't go home right away, bring a cooler for the most delicate items.
Try not to over-buy—one of the main reasons to shop at a farmers' market is to get fresh food and cook it while it is fresh.
Take your children with you. Too many kids have no idea where food comes from or how it looks in its unprocessed state. Seeing zucchini with blossoms attached, carrots with tops, or cauliflower with its green wrapper leaves gives them an idea of how vegetables grow. Sampling a half-dozen tomatoes or selecting a peach will awaken their senses.
For the best selection and quality, shop early. Growers often bring just a few pounds of something and, naturally, the choice produce goes first. In addition, on warm days the quality of unrefrigerated fruits and vegetables can decline from morning to afternoon. On the other hand, if it's a good price you are after, shop late in the day when growers are more inclined to deal.
Take time to chat with farmers. Building relationships is part of the fun of shopping at farmers' markets. You will become a wiser shopper, probably improve your cooking skills, and perhaps take home an occasional "special customer" treat.
Fresh From the Farmers' Market
by Janet Fletcher
1997; $19.95 paperback
Recipes and photos reprinted by permission.
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