9 Mistakes Not to Make at the Farmers' Market
August may be the absolute best time of year to go to the farmersâ€™ market: The stands are overflowing with tomatoes, zucchini, melons, flowers, and fresh herbs. You might feel tempted to buy every good-looking peach or bunch of kale you see, but before you do that, our test kitchen has some advice on how to shop at the farmersâ€™ marketâ€”and the mistakes you should avoid.
1. Itâ€™s Lunchtimeâ€”Letâ€™s Hit the Farmersâ€™ Market!
If you want the best of the best, go as soon as the market opens, like chefs do. (The crowds usually donâ€™t arrive until late morning or afternoon.) If the afternoonâ€™s the only time you can get there, by all means, go! But if you can wait until the marketâ€™s final hour, thereâ€™s a different perk to be had. â€ťThe other day, I went to the farmersâ€™ market at, like, 6 p.m. They had a ton of discounts!â€ť says senior associate food editor Alison Roman. â€śActuallyâ€”donâ€™t write that. I donâ€™t want the secret out.â€ť Itâ€™s true: Lots of farmers want to sell their goods so they donâ€™t have to haul their wares back home, and they can do so by slashing prices.
2. All Stalls Are Created Equal
â€śThere are a lot of stands at the farmersâ€™ market,â€ť says senior food editor Dawn Perry. â€śDonâ€™t go for the first good-looking produce you see.â€ť Perry recommends doing a lap to see whoâ€™s got what, testing the quality by sampling everything you can. â€śYouâ€™re going for the best peach or best kale or best apples you can find, and those might not all be at the same stand.â€ť
3. Itâ€™s 2014â€”Theyâ€™ve Got to Take Credit Cards
â€śMake sure you bring enough cash!â€ť cautions Roman. While many farmers are starting to use Square (or something similar) to take credit cards, not all do. Make sure youâ€™re armed with green to pay for those pretty squash blossoms. And when you do pay, have your cash ready and â€śget off your cell phone and interact,â€ť says Perry.
4. Itâ€™s All Organic, Right?
â€śDonâ€™t assume everything at the farmersâ€™ market is organic,â€ť says Perry. â€śItâ€™s not.â€ť For a farm to get certified organic, it takes a long time and a lot of money. While some farms at the market probably do use pesticides, some farms are using alternative farming methods without the use of pesticides or practice integrated pest management (a multi-layer system for controlling harmful bugs). If youâ€™re concerned about that kind of thing, ask your farmer about his or her farming techniques before buying.
5. Socializing Is for Facebook, Not IRL
â€śMake friends with your farmer!â€ť says an enthusiastic Brad Leone, our test kitchen manager. â€śTheyâ€™ll set their best aside for you, or sometimes give you things like an extra bunch of turnips.â€ť Bonus turnips? Weâ€™re in. â€śChances are, your farmerâ€™s operation is close to where you live,â€ť points out test kitchen contributor Jackie Ourman. â€śIf you make friends, he or she might invite you up to see the farm. Itâ€™s good to see where your food comes from.â€ť
6. Boneless, Skinless, Farm-Raised Breasts
Are Best When buying meat at the farmersâ€™ market, consider the off-cuts. â€śFarmers desperately want to get rid of the byproducts that inevitably come from whole-animal butchering,â€ť explains assistant food editor Claire Saffitz. Think a pound of chicken livers for $1 or a lamb neck for $3. If they have stuff like that, you can most likely get it for cheap. Those chicken livers are great in fried rice (really!) and make a great pĂ˘tĂ©. That lamb neck will be meltingly tender in a braise. And itâ€™s all less than what you paid for that large cold-brew.