How to Shop at the Farmer’s Market

DSCN0079Since the beginning of May, I’ve shopped at the Olathe Farmer’s Market twelve times. I’ve never been this consistent before, and I’m loving it. So is my family as fresh, beautiful food reaches the dinner table every day. Through repetition, I’ve learned a few things that might enhance your farmer’s marketing experience.

Cash is preferred, but not always necessary. With the advent of the Square credit card reader, some vendors now take cards. I’ve used mine to buy eggs, meat and baked goods. I haven’t tried it yet at the produce stalls.

With today’s farming methods, vegetables are ready earlier and for a longer time. I’ve bought ripe Missouri or Kansas tomatoes at every market since late May, and boy do they ever taste good! In years past, tomatoes like these weren’t available until July. Last week I bought the last of the asparagus and the first of the green beans (once an impossible combination), and made fresh pasta primavera for dinner. (For the recipe I used, click here.)

DSCN0209
Fair dealing is alive and well.
When it comes to dimes and quarters, vendors in Olathe are prone to round their prices down. They’re also willing to cut the price on less popular merchandise. A few weeks ago I wanted to make spaghetti sauce, so I asked for ‘seconds’, or imperfect tomatoes. The vendor pulled a tray of slightly split tomatoes out of her truck, and sold them to me for half price. Emily and I had the same experience when we wanted large potatoes instead of the baby ones on the vendor’s table. He grabbed a bag of big potatoes from under the table and gave us a generous helping.

A trip to the farmer’s market doesn’t have to take long. I generally spend under fifteen minutes shopping at the market. When I arrive, I start at one end and walk to the other, checking the stalls as I go. On my way back down the row, I buy what I need. I’m not there to have an ‘experience.’ I’m there to grocery shop. The key to brevity: Decide what you need before you get there.

The farmer’s market doesn’t have to be a budget buster. Again, the key is to decide what you’ll spend before you go. Twenty dollars is my limit, and I usually don’t quite reach it. Yesterday I paid $18.50 for the following: Five peaches, a sunflower, three large tomatoes, six beets, three onions, two yellow squash and a cucumber. My family of five will eat everything but the sunflower. I find that baked goods, while delicious, are the biggest drain on my money, so I save them for occasional treats.

June 17 FMSometimes you have to splurge. A few weeks ago I bought a pork roast from the Mettenburg Farm stall. It cost $22 (the Square card reader made it possible), and I still dream about the way it tasted. I sometimes buy pricey duck eggs, too. With kids who are allergic to chicken eggs, it’s worth the extra so I can make a frittata once in a while. I learned about the chicken/duck difference from talking with an egg seller, which brings me to my next point.

Small Barn Farm honey sellers
Small Barn Farm honey sellers

Talking to the vendors is half the fun. The folks who sell those tomatoes and peppers are usually the ones who grew them. If they didn’t, they can tell you which farmer in which county did. I’ve run into a grump or two, but most really want to educate their customers. Ask about the weather. Ask about veggies you don’t recognize, and which varieties taste the sweetest, and when to look for your late-summer favorites. They know so much about the food you eat.

The best farmer’s market is the one closest to where you live. Olathe splits its market into two locations (Blackbob Park and the Olathe Community Center), so there are fewer stalls at each one. I can find everything I’m looking for at either place. This is true at most farmer’s markets, so your best bet is to find the nearest one, mark your schedule for Wednesday or Saturday morning, and go.

You won’t regret it.

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