Shopping at farmer's markets is fun, family-friendly, and a great way to support local farms and independent businesses in your community. However, they can often be quite expensive (terms like "couponing," "stacking savings," and "moneymaker" will fall upon deaf ears at the farmer's market). But given the amount of time I spend shopping at these markets, I've learned some great money-saving tips and tricks that I want to share with you. So here you go, the frugal foodie’s guide to shopping at the farmer's market:
- Haggle: Don’t be shy—farmer’s market prices are notoriously negotiable.
- Be a Regular: Vendors often cut deals for their regular customers. As such, smile and get to know your favorite vendors—not only is it nice, but also it could help you save money.
- Bring Your Own Reusable Grocery Bag: Not only will you fit in with the whole “eco-friendly” vibe at the farmer’s market, but also some vendors charge extra for bags and packaging. Skirt this unnecessary expense by using your very own reusable grocery tote.
- Take Advantage of Free Samples: Most vendors will let you sample any of their products. So if you happen to come to the market hungry (which, by the way, is normally a big grocery shopping no-no), fill up on free samples. If you miscalculate and end up with excess, over-ripe fruit, you can always use it to make homemade jam or a yummy cobbler.
- Don’t Buy Too Much: Produce at the farmer’s market, unlike some of the produce available at the grocery store, has not been treated with shelf-life increasing preservatives. As such, farmer’s market produce will spoil quickly, so you should only buy what you are confident your family will eat.
- Shop in the Rain: So long as the weather conditions aren’t severe and it’s not dangerous to be outside, farmer's markets remain open. Think about it: vendors selling at these markets need to sell their perishable goods before the market shuts down for the day or the weekend. Everything they don't sell becomes lost profits. So you can bet they are going to stay open, even when it rains. So put on your anorak and your cutest pair of rain boots and head out to the farmer's market. Since you'll probably be one of the only people at the market and vendors are worried about selling all their inventory, they will be inclined to give you a discount. If they don't offer one up front, it's perfectly acceptable to say to the vendor, "I braved the elements just for my favorite mango chutney/cheesy Ortega sausages/heirloom tomatoes. Have any rainy day specials for me?"
- Shop Late: For similar reasoning as to why you should shop in the rain, you can often score great deals by shopping at the farmer’s market right before it closes. I recommend going about a half-hour before closing. Don't show up one minute before closing and request that the vendor thinly slice 94 loaves of sunflower bread and then individually package them for you. An annoyed vendor will not be inclined to offer you any deals—he or she may even hike up the price to compensate for your bothersome ways.
- Shop Imperfects: When it comes to produce, some vendors will have imperfect fruits and veggies. While they may be ugly and bruised, there is usually not a discernible difference in taste and quality when compared to their “perfect” counterparts. Ask the vendor if he will cut you a deal on imperfects. He’s likely to comply since he knows that if you don’t buy them, there’s a possibility no one else will, and he’ll have to “eat” the cost of the unsold inventory.