Summer has officially arrived and farmers markets across the country are in full swing. Although it can sometimes be expensive to shop locally, there are ways to avoid breaking your budget while still enjoying local fare. If you play your cards right, shopping at your local farmers market can actually save you money this summer.
Here are eight tips to cut costs on everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to candles and more.
1. Make a List
Rule No. 1 of any shopping trip should be to have a list. For many, the farmers market can be sensory overload, so going in without a plan means you’ll come out with a random mix of fruits and vegetables you’re not going to use. Prior to shopping, make a list of everything you need for the week and use this to guide your purchase decisions. Impulse buying rarely ends well, so do your best to safeguard yourself from random spending.
“Make a list, but be open to items you haven’t seen before,” said Anne Meixner, a longtime volunteer and shopper at the Hollywood Farmers Market in Portland, Ore. “I think it is more important to know the vendors at the market and who you are going to buy from.”
2. Shop in Season
Many fruits and vegetables are seasonal, so quantities are limited during off-peak months, driving prices up. For example, bell peppers, blueberries, corn, peaches and tomatoes are among the fresh food in season during the summer months, according to the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
So this summer, it’s best to focus on seasonal produce and leave the sweet potatoes, oranges and kale for the winter — this will save you money in the long run. Plus, you can always buy during peak season for the best price and freeze for use during later months.
3. Visit at the End of the Day
Many vendors like to take the lightest possible load home at the end of the day, so shopping at a later time could score you some deep discounts — or even freebies. Remaining fruits and vegetables are perfectly fresh, so you get all the value, without paying full price.
Meixner said many vendors will agree to give discounts at the end of the day because they don’t want to haul everything home. This can cost them money in added labor charges, lower gas mileage from heavy trunks or spoiled product.
4. Ask for Free Samples
It’s beyond frustrating to stock up on produce, only to get home and realize you don’t like the taste. Most farmers market vendors can be willing to let you try before you buy, so ask for a free sample to make sure it’s something you want to cook with and eat.
5. Don’t Focus Solely on Organic
Fresh fruits and vegetables with an organic label are grown, handled and processed according to strict USDA guidelines many people feel makes the food safer for consumption. If you typically only shop organic at your local supermarket, you’ll probably steer clear of any farmers market vendors without the same label — but this might not be necessary. Organic certification costs a few hundred to several thousand dollars annually, according to the USDA, which is unaffordable for many small farmers.
Before making your decision, strike up a conversation with the farmer to learn how the fresh produce is grown, as it might meet your standards but have a lower price tag without the formal organic designation.
6. Buy in Bulk
Haggling with a farmers market vendor over the price of one apple or tomato could be viewed as insulting, but buying multiples can give you some leeway. “Many vendors will be happy to haggle a bit over pricing, especially if you[‘re] buying in bulk,” said Barb Webb, author of “Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving.”
For example, many vendors will offer better deals the more you buy; ask them if you can get three items for $10, instead of paying $4 each. Similarly, if you have a genuine need for bulk produce, find out if you can get a discount for buying at an even higher volume.
7. Ask for Help
Choosing fresh produce can be tricky, so tell the vendor your plans for what you’re buying and ask for help finding the best pieces for your needs. “If it is new to you ask the vendor how to cook it,” Meixner said. “The farmers eat what they grow and also supply local restaurants[, so] I have found them to be a great source for recipes.”
For example, if you’re planning to make guacamole as soon as you get home, you need a fully ripe avocado, but if you’re not going to use it for five days, it’s best to buy one that hasn’t fully reached its peak. Vendors will typically be happy to help so that you get the exact item you need.
8. Look Beyond Fruits and Vegetables
Don’t just focus on fresh produce at the farmers market; many local businesses and artisans rent space at these events, selling everything from homemade bread to handcrafted candles and even jewelry.
“Depending upon the size of the farmers market, you may find other products for sale such as canned goods like jams and jellies, nuts, breads, cheese, books by local authors and even dried foods,” Webb said. “Most will be offered at a lower price than they would in a retail environment and will certainly be a lot fresher.”
Often times, prices for these wares are much more reasonable than you’ll find in a store — and you get the satisfaction of supporting a local business.
Find Out: 35 Ways to Save Hundreds on Groceries