9 Insider Tips for Farmer’s Market Newbies

August 14th, 2012 by Dionna | 17 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Compassionate Advocacy, Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature, Environmentalism, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting

Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer’s Markets

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about something new they’ve learned about their local farmers.


As part of our family’s overall effort to live a healthier lifestyle, we’ve been eating more organic, locally grown food. Part of our fruit and veggie haul comes from Door to Door Organics. The other part often comes from our local farmer’s market.

I still consider myself a farmer’s market newbie, so I was excited to visit with some of the farmers at the Independence Farmers’ & Craft Market to learn some insider info.1 Here are nine tips that can help you make the most of your farmer’s market experience.

1. Get to know your farmers.

The most important tip I heard from every person I talked to? Build a relationship with a few farmers. No big surprise here, but your farmers will be your most valuable resource at the farmer’s market.

Not only can they help you navigate your market, but farmers are more likely to do nice things (like cut you a super deal) for known customers.

2. Get to know your market.

Frequent your market on different days and times to get to know the ins and outs. Find a day/time that works best for you – will you get better deals and fresher produce mid-week when there are no crowds? At the beginning or end of the day? Do certain farmers only come on certain days?

If you have questions, ask the market manager. They are intimately familiar with the customs, procedures, farmers, and nuances of their market.

3. Get to know your food.

Many people shop at farmer’s markets because they want to support and eat local, sustainably grown food. But not all of the food at your market is grown or raised in the same way. It might not even be grown in your state.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • Do you grow your own food (or raise your own animals, etc.)?
  • Where is your farm?
  • What pesticides/chemicals do you use on your food?
  • What does organic mean to you?
  • How is your food grown?

4. Take a good look at the food.

You’ve probably heard people say to walk up and down the entire market before making any purchases. But I usually find at my local market that the prices are pretty similar. The difference is in the quality.

Get to know what a ripe watermelon should sound like. Find out how the perfect tomato should feel in your hand. Discuss with the farmers how long the produce should last once you get it home and the best way to store it. Ask what will taste best right now – they’ll tell you.

By the way, one farmer shared that if you come across produce that appears uniform, it was probably not grown at home. Fruits and vegetables are individuals, too!

5. Take advantage of special programs.

Many farmer’s markets offer special programs that can make your dollar go further. For example, Kansas City has a Beans & Greens program that doubles the value of SNAP dollars (food stamps) and Kansas Senior dollars. Several states offer assistance to families enrolled in WIC. See if your local market has any programs that you can benefit from.

6. Good farmers believe in good customer service.

Farmers want to build relationships with you, too. Repeat customers are good for business, so they are invested in you. Of course consumers should remember not to take advantage of local farmers – they’re trying to feed their families, just like you are. But don’t be afraid to ask. Here are a few examples of the incredible customer service I have seen at my market:

  • If you get something bad, come back and let them know. Your farmer wants to make it right so that you will buy from him/her again.
  • Do you have your eye on two beautiful tomatoes in different baskets? Ask if you can make your own portion.
  • Not sure whether you’ll like kale (or something else on the farmer’s table)? Ask for a sample.

7. Farmers have sales, too.

As one farmer said to me, “there is value in negotiating.” Farmers give all kinds of discounts, you just need to ask (or show up at the right time). Here are a few of the discounts I have taken advantage of:

  • End of day: Some farmers will offer bargains at the end of the day, because they would rather sell their produce than load it up and take it home.
  • Seconds: “Seconds” are the produce that may not be as pretty, but is just as tasty. Use your for seconds for canning, stews, or other dishes where flavor matters more than looks.
  • Bulk buying: Farmers are often happy to give you a discount if you buy a case of one type of fruit or vegetable. You may need to ask about bulk buying in advance so the farmer has enough for you.
  • Pick-up: Some farmers might give you a discount for picking up your order at their farm.

farmers market 3

8. Go beyond the market.

Get more from the farmer’s market than what you see on the tables. Here are a few ideas you can try:

  • Do any of your farmers have a CSA? It can be a great way to support your farmers and supplement your regular market trips.
  • Is there a product you love or want to try, but you’re not sure what to do with it? Visit with the farmers and ask for recipes. They eat what they grow!
  • Curious to know where your food is grown? Ask whether they have a day where the public can visit the farm.
  • Do you have a skill? Sure you do! Some farmers might be open to bartering. Consider trading skilled or unskilled labor for food.
  • Turn the market into “school.” There are so many learning opportunities available at the farmer’s market. Here are some links for inspiration (most from today’s Carnival, so the links may not work just yet): 10 Simple Ways to Make the Farmer’s Market More Fun for Kids, Exploring the Market . . . Alphabet Style, 10 Things I Want To Teach My Daughter About The Importance of Shopping at the Farmer’s Market, On The Hunt . . . at the Farmer’s Market, Montessori-Inspired Vegetable Unit, School’s In at the Farmer’s Market
  • 9. Be nice.

    Remember that this isn’t some big, impersonal grocery store; these are individuals trying to make a living. So get to know your farmers. Make some new friends! Say thank you. Offer to help out. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain.


    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    (This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)

    1. I am thankful for the time I spent visiting with Joe Antoine, Market Manager of the Independence Farmers’ & Craft Market and Hartman’s Heritage Community Market, with Dan and Melinda Read, a mother and son team responsible for Brothers’ Produce (Dan is filling our bag in the first picture), and with Bobby and Liz Stockton, who own and operate Ida Belle Farms in Rayville, MO. Be sure to check out Ida Belle Farms on Facebook.

17 Responses to:
"9 Insider Tips for Farmer’s Market Newbies"

  1. Thank you for this great list. I’m fairly new to farmer’s markets so it’s nice to get some tips. I especially like the idea of asking what organic means to the farmer. The last time I was at the farmer’s market there were signs saying “naturally grown” and I had no idea what they meant by that!

  2. Amy   anktangle

    Thanks for these great tips, Dionna! I particularly enjoy walking around and sampling the various offerings (berries, cheeses, roasted nuts) at the market to get a feel for which ones suit our needs the best. I always think it’s a good sign when a table offers samples, because they’re letting their product do the talking. =)

  3. Kate

    There’s a farm stand that we pass on the way to (and from) my parent’s beach house that sells “day old” produce at a ridiculously cheap rate, $4.95 for an entire bushel (which works out to about 10-20 cents a lb depending on what’s in the basket). Obviously you have to be prepared to deal with a lot of produce at once but we generally eat some, freeze some (roasted squash freezes surprisingly well), and share some with friends and family.

  4. Emily   SAHMiAM82

    Wonderful ideas! Thank you! Supporting local food is so important!!

  5. Justine @ The Lone Home Ranger   lonehomeranger

    I love the ideas of getting good bargains. I frequent my farmer’s “seconds” table, but I haven’t tried buying in bulk or coming late in the day. I will try those out next time!

  6. Erica @ ChildOrganics   ChildOrganics

    I recently discovered another way to get a good deal at the market is to go in the rain. I have to go to the market rain or shine to pick up my CSA. The vendors were extremely generous when you support them during bad weather. Our market goes on rain or shine. I felt like I hit the jackpot last week and the farmer’s were so happy we made it out to support them. The kids certainly didn’t mind, they love splashing in the puddles and wearing rain jackets.

  7. What a great list of tips Dionna! I’ll use these as my guide next time I go to my farmer’s market :) Thank you!

  8. Shannon @ GrowingSlower   growingslower

    These are great tips. I especially love that the farmers are eager to tell about the food they’ve grown. This one is best steamed, this one is great in salad. They take so much pride in their work. That’s not something you get to experience in the grocery store!

  9. Another tip is that when you’re confronted with several varieties of the same product (tomatoes, for example), ask the farmer which variety is best. It’s always tempting to pick the variety that appears more beautiful, or the one that is less expensive. By asking the farmer, you’re less likely to overlook the real gems.

  10. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    Awesome ideas, Dionna! My kids and I have had some great experiences by getting to know the local farmers (being repeat customers). Thanks so much for including my post in your “turn the market into ‘school'” list! I pinned your post to my Farm Unit Study Pinterest Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/farm-unit-study/.

  11. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I love these tips! Your idea to get samples is a great one — I find that when I get a sample of something, I usually get hooked on something yummy, so win-win. :)

    I wish I weren’t so shy about talking to the vendors. I know I’d learn a ton. I’ve decided they should be talkative, and I’ll be a good listener!

    Your budgeting tips are so helpful, too. A lot of people wouldn’t think they can afford to shop at farmers’ markets (or know they can’t, at stated prices), so knowing how to get deals or even assistance is really beneficial.

  12. Carrie   lovingonabudget

    I LOVE farmer’s markets! We have 2 that are run weekly near our house. I take both of my girls with me when I go because I think it’s important to talk to them about where the food comes from. If they only see it in the grocery stores, they don’t get the other side of the picture. Also, as you mentioned, the quality of the produce speaks for itself, helps local farmers and you can get deals by negotiating. How can you beat that?!

  13. Crunchy Con Mommy   crunchyconmom

    My problem is that I end up chatting too much with vendors and then not buying anything from them that day and feeling super guilty about it! It’s much easier to go in the grocery store and not buy things I don’t need or won’t actually use in the next couple of days because I don’t feel like I’m hurting anyone’s feelings, lol.
    Anyway, great tips!

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