9 Mistakes Not to Make at the Farmers' Market
August may be the absolute best time of year to go to the farmers’ 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 farmers’ market—and the mistakes you should avoid.
1. It’s Lunchtime—Let’s Hit the Farmers’ Market!
If you want the best of the best, go as soon as the market opens, like chefs do. (The crowds usually don’t arrive until late morning or afternoon.) If the afternoon’s the only time you can get there, by all means, go! But if you can wait until the market’s final hour, there’s a different perk to be had. ”The other day, I went to the farmers’ market at, like, 6 p.m. They had a ton of discounts!” says senior associate food editor Alison Roman. “Actually—don’t write that. I don’t want the secret out.” It’s true: Lots of farmers want to sell their goods so they don’t have to haul their wares back home, and they can do so by slashing prices.
2. All Stalls Are Created Equal
“There are a lot of stands at the farmers’ market,” says senior food editor Dawn Perry. “Don’t go for the first good-looking produce you see.” Perry recommends doing a lap to see who’s got what, testing the quality by sampling everything you can. “You’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.”
3. It’s 2014—They’ve Got to Take Credit Cards
“Make sure you bring enough cash!” cautions Roman. While many farmers are starting to use Square (or something similar) to take credit cards, not all do. Make sure you’re armed with green to pay for those pretty squash blossoms. And when you do pay, have your cash ready and “get off your cell phone and interact,” says Perry.
4. It’s All Organic, Right?
“Don’t assume everything at the farmers’ market is organic,” says Perry. “It’s not.” 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 you’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
“Make friends with your farmer!” says an enthusiastic Brad Leone, our test kitchen manager. “They’ll set their best aside for you, or sometimes give you things like an extra bunch of turnips.” Bonus turnips? We’re in. “Chances are, your farmer’s operation is close to where you live,” points out test kitchen contributor Jackie Ourman. “If you make friends, he or she might invite you up to see the farm. It’s good to see where your food comes from.”
6. Boneless, Skinless, Farm-Raised Breasts
Are Best When buying meat at the farmers’ market, consider the off-cuts. “Farmers desperately want to get rid of the byproducts that inevitably come from whole-animal butchering,” 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 pâté. That lamb neck will be meltingly tender in a braise. And it’s all less than what you paid for that large cold-brew.