Farmer’s markets are continuing to pop up across the country due to the popularity with both farmers and consumers. Among farmers, selling in local markets is beneficial because it allows smaller farms to sell directly to consumers, thereby reducing distribution costs and increasing profits. For consumers, buying from farmer’s markets tends to provide a wide variety of fresh, high-quality produce. This is, in part, because when selling directly to the consumer, farmers can allow their produce to ripen longer before harvesting and can get it to the consumer more quickly after harvest. In contrast, produce purchased at the supermarket generally must be harvested much earlier to allow for shipping and distribution time.
As summer gets into full swing, take time to check out the abundance of offerings at a farmer’s market near you. A listing of locations in your area can be found on the USDA’s directory of farmer’s markets Web site at www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/ or within the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Farm Fresh Directory. The 2004 Farm Fresh Directory provides information on and directions to over 100 farms and 78 farmer’s markets across Colorado that sell local produce and other farm products directly to consumers. The directory can be found online at www.ag.state.co.us/mkt/farmfresh/welcome.html. Copies also are available free at many different farmer’s markets, public libraries, Chambers of Commerce and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offices located across the state.
If you are planning a trip to your local farmer’s market, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your trip.
– Go early. For the best selection and quality, go when the market first opens. Or, if you prefer to haggle for the best price, shop later in the day when vendors will be more likely to negotiate.
– Take your own bag. Farmer’s markets usually don’t provide shopping carts, so bring your own tote bag or basket to carry your purchases.
– Browse before buying. Do an initial walk through of the market to see what is available. Take time to sample and compare the offerings of different vendors, and ask when foods were picked.
– Take time to chat. Farmers often can provide information regarding the differences among varieties of a certain fruit or vegetable, how to select produce, and how to prepare and/or preserve produce.
– Try not to over-buy. Farmer’s markets are usually held on a regular basis. Rather than purchasing more food than you likely can consume, plan to visit your farmer’s market more often so that you can purchase and eat food while it is the freshest.
– Try something new. Delicious new fruits and vegetables not available at corporate supermarkets often can be found at farmer’s markets. Try to buy one new item each time you go.
– Make it a family affair. Take your kids when you go. Farmer’s markets offer a great way to learn how food is grown and what it looks like in an unprocessed state. Let your child pick one or two fruits or vegetables they would like to try.
– Plan to go straight home from the farmer’s market. Leaving fresh produce in a hot car can wilt it. If you can’t head directly home, bring a cooler to help preserve the more delicate items.
– Wash your hands and produce before you bite. Most produce sold at farmer’s markets has not been pre-washed. If you plan to eat that peach or plum you just bought before getting home, be sure to find a place to wash it first.
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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension