It pays to be a smart shopper, but even more so when it comes to farmers markets. You want to get the most bang for your buck, but do you know what farmers market “bang” looks like? From finding the farmers market and methods that work best for you, to finding the best foods and identifying your favorite producers, these 8 tips will help you navigate and get the most from your local farmers market. If you can’t find a good farmers market in your area or are having trouble finding a particular kind of food, planting a garden is a great natural solution.
1. Map your market options.
Shopping farmers markets and trying to save time and money without sacrificing quality and availability are tasks that require planning. The first step in this process is to find out where the markets are in your area. You may already know of a couple, but it could pay to keep your options open. The nonprofit organization, LocalHarvest, makes this step easy. Their website features a grassroots directory of over 30,000 family farms and farmers markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local foods. Additionally, LocalHarvest offers customized updates about events and markets in your area, making it easy to keep up with changes and announcements. Once you have your list, you can begin to choose which markets you would like to try, based on standard facts such as days and times of operation, size, and market rules and regulations.
2. Develop a carrying strategy.
Do your part to improve the environment and save your farmers some money at the same time – bring your own bags. If you're investing in reusable totes, you might want to consider the sturdy, flat-bottomed variety for produce and an insulated tote or small cooler for perishable goods.
3. Bring small bills, score big rewards.
Farmers markets and vendors vary when it comes to the types of payments they will accept. Bringing along small-denomination bills ensures that vendors are paid quickly and that the purchasing process goes smoothly.
4. Peruse first, purchase last.
When you arrive, take your time and take everything in. Stand at the front and look around. As you make your way around to each vendor, hold off on making a purchase. Instead, take mental notes of things like prices, quality and variety. Once you’ve browsed and asked questions you can make educated choices about who to purchase from.
5. Know what you’re looking for and how to find it.
If you’re unsure about whether a vendor’s wares are local or handmade, ask them. Also, when looking for organic produce, it is important to note that the organic certification process is costly and small farms may follow organic farming principles but not be able to afford the certification process. Be sure to always ask vendors about their farming philosophy and practices. Visit the Environmental Working Group for a quick list of fruits and veggies to buy organic.
6. Be a student of nature and health.
Keep a notebook and take notes. Crops and growing and seasons vary by region. In the long run, you will benefit from writing down the dates when you see your favorite ingredients first being sold. This will help you familiarize yourself with the natural cycle of food availability in your area. Incorporate notes from at-home taste tests and notes about different vendors. Find out where they sell their products and when. Ask about their growing philosophy and practices.
7. Get to know your farmers as people.
Introduce yourself and learn their names and the name of their farm and business. This will communicate your appreciation but go ahead and thank them while you’re at it. Respect goes a long way at the farmers market.
8. Conduct your own at home taste test. Nutritional and culinary qualities of foods vary based on a variety of factors including farming/raising techniques, geography and even handling methods. Conducting your own taste test of available foods is an excellent way to learn more about the foods and to figure out which vendors are your favorites. You’ll want to purchase several of the same items from different vendors. Be sure to note the vendor’s name, the price you paid, and any other notes, such as the quantity and quality of the selection.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
With more than 60 varieties of basil, this one herb can take you on a culinary adventure that will benefit your health, while it entertains your taste buds. This highly fragrant plant is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, manganese, copper, calcium, iron, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that basil has anti-bacterial properties. The essential oil obtained from basil leaves can protect against several species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains. Washing your produce in a 1% basil concentration can nearly eliminate Shigella, a diarrhea-inducing bacteria that can cause significant intestinal damage.
Overall, basil helps protect against heart attack, stroke, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and promotes cardiovascular health. Whenever possible, choose fresh basil over dried, as fresh basil provides the best flavor. Fresh basil leaves should be a vibrant, deep green color without spots or yellowing. Store fresh basil in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel, or preserve it for use in fall and winter soups by freezing. When cooking with basil add the herb near the end of the cooking process because its oils are volatile and should not be cooked for long. An easy way to incorporate more basil into your diet is to pair it with uncooked foods, like in salads as a vinaigrette. You may also want to try adding fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to make pesto. Or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, add basil to eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu, and cashew nuts to create a Thai dish.
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