How To Navigate The Farmers MarketThis weekend, we spent a glorious Saturday morning at the Kingston Farmers Market.  This market is the most local of local haunts in our area.  Saint John also has a wonderful City Market with loads of mostly-local goods.  Still, when we can muster a few hours on a Saturday morning to directly support our rural farming community, we head to the country refuge of Kingston.

Trip to Farmers MarketAlong with the local farmers, the weather really delivered yesterday.  It was a beautiful day for the short ferry ride to the penninsula where the weekly market is held.  We came back with bellies full and trunk weighed down from all of our wonderful market finds.

Here are a few tips on how we make the most of our trips to the farmers market.  Sure, there are a number of non-trivial planning activities that help our day go smoother, but we think the real key is in “the flow factor”.  And that brings us to our first tip.

1.  Honor the outing.  If we’re having one of those Saturdays when we just need to get things done, we opt for the City Market or the grocery store.  If we’re willing to go with the flow, there’s nothing that matches the quality and experience of the farmers market.

Farmers work on a different schedule than we do.  It’s tied to seasons and cycles (or so I’ve heard).  It’s pretty simple really; farmers bring whatever they have to the market.  And what they have varies greatly from season to season, and is mostly dependent on good old mother nature for its volume and quality.

Don’t get us wrong.  It’s always good to have a rough plan for the market (veggies, fruits, plants, etc.) and to roughly understand what’s in season, but getting the best possible produce is mostly about looking at all of the possibilities and then picking whatever’s calling to you.

It’s early in our growing season yet, so we came home with a stash of greenhouse lettuce and beat greens on Saturday.  We hadn’t even realized we could get local greens at this time of year, so this was a nice surprise – not to mention a nice addition to Saturday’s supper.

2.  Talk to the farmers and trust what they tell you.  On a related topic, we like to use the farmers market as an opportunity to try new things.  We circle the stalls and look at all of the options.  We read the signs.  But then, we usually talk with the farmers.  We ask them what’s particularly good this year.  If they suggest something we don’t typically buy, we almost always buy it.  And we typically ask the farmers how to best prepare it.

This weekend, we bought the world’s most amazing range-fed bacon.  I mean, we haven’t had bacon in months because (a) we only eat meat about once a week and (b) we generally don’t eat anything processed or containing preservatives, so this was a very nice find.  This bacon tasted like nothing we’ve ever had before.  Seriously, now we know what bacon is supposed to taste like.  And it’s nothing like that stuff in the processed meat aisle.  (If you’re local and interested, the farmers are Joel and Jennifer from 57 McMillan HIll Rd, Head of Millstream, NB.)

3.  Arrive early.  We know, we know.  The best deals happen at the end of the day, but we still love to arrive early.  We feel that a farmers market trip with 2 small kids works best (a) well before naptime and (b) on a full stomach.  The Kingston market has volunteers serving breakfast all morning, so we like to get there early and let the kids fuel up on breakfast prior to starting our real shopping.  We also find that the best produce sometimes goes early, so it’s worth it for us to make the early start.

Farmers Market Produce4.  Bring enough cash.  (As much as you can afford.)  We like to make sure we come with enough cash to get what we want.  When the growing season is a little further along, we happily replace most of our grocery order with our market finds.  We also sometimes find things we thought we’d have to buy elsewhere.  For example, we managed to land all of the potted herbs we’d been wanting for our herb garden from a local herb grower on Saturday.  We paid a little less than we would have paid at the local nursery as well.

We hope these few tips help you get the best out of your local farmers market.  If you’re new to buying local, remember that it takes time to find your flow.  Keep an open mind and you won’t come back empty-handed.

This post was inspired by Healthy Child Healthy World‘s call for posts on “Navigating the Farmers Market”.

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Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

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