6 Ways to Shop Smarter at the Farmers Market

Heirloom tigerstripe tomatoes at a farmers market.

Shutterstock/Zachary C Person.

As we move into the late-summer glory season—that hallowed time when most produce is at peak deliciousness—it's worth reconsidering your farmers market strategy. Sure, it’s hard to go wrong this time of year, but the following shopping tips should push your market experience over the top.

1. Leave No Green Behind

Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radishes are sometimes sold both whole, with greens attached, and trimmed. Always opt for the whole version. It’ll last longer for one thing. But more importantly, the greens are both edible and delicious. Washed carefully, they all make great, earthy pesto, and radish and beet greens can be prepared the same way as chard or kale. Bonus food!

2. Consider What’s Growing Around You, Right Now

A crate of apples can be appealing in the hot days of summer, but those fruits have likely been sitting in industrial refrigerators since they were harvested last fall. The same logic applies to locality: if you’re in the Northeast or Midwest, don’t bother with bananas or avocados. If you’re in California, well, pretty much everything can be grown there—congratulations. Epicurious has a helpful map laying out what’s in season and where.

3. Go Early

If you’re in a big city, treat the farmers market like the flea market: procrastinate, and you’ll miss out on the best stuff. This is especially true of highly perishable items like seafood and meat, which need to be kept on ice.

4. Learn What Fresh Looks Like

The produce at a farmers market is different than grocery store produce. The tastiest heirloom tomato is often the most deformed. Brussels sprouts should be small and tight. Ask the farmer to help you pick out the best produce and maybe even show you tips for testing ripeness.

5. Survey Like a Hawk

At almost any reasonably sized market, there’ll be more than one vendor selling most items. Before you buy, take a lap around the joint to scope out the freshest choices at the fairest prices.

6. Get Weird

Your market is likely home to some strange stuff. Instead of a standard deep purple eggplant, why not go for pure white ones or the tiny, globular Thai variety. Consider watermelon or French breakfast radishes, not just the red kind. And while salmon’s great, porgy, sand dab, or pickerel are far more adventurous. The market offers an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone. When in Rome, don’t settle for Romaine.

6 Ways to Shop Smarter at the Farmers Market