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10 tips for shopping at the farmers market

July 21, 2014

Make dinner and memories at your Hocking Hills cabin

Heading to the farmers market might be uncharted territory for you. So, where do you start? What’s in season? What does USDA certified organic actually mean, anyway?

Around here, we’re experts. We know that one of the best parts of staying in a Hocking Hills cabin is the dinner that follows a long day of hiking, ziplining and canoeing. So grab your shopping list and your bag, and head to the farmers market with an open mind.

  1. Don’t be shy. One of the number one reasons it pays to shop locally is the ability to get your answers straight from the horse’s mouth. Farmers who are proud of their crop will often answer any questions you throw at them. That’s a rare opportunity in our supermarket culture. Get advice on cooking an unfamiliar veggie, find out what’s coming up in season and what fare the farmer is planning to have the following week. Go for it. Learn all you can about the farmer’s growing practices, and remember who you’re buying from for the next week. Oh, and don’t be discouraged if produce isn’t labeled organic.
  2. OrganicFind out why it’s not certified organic. Just because produce is not labeled organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bottom shelf. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. Some of the best farms are so small that a single farmer can painstakingly care for the crops. But USDA organic certification is pricey, and may not be worth it for such a small farm. Many farms use organic practices, often much more strict than those required by the government, without even being certified. If a farm doesn’t label their produce organic, it pays to ask why. You may discover a hidden source of organically farmed food.
  3. Try something new each week. Another unique aspect of browsing a farmers market is discovering something new. (What is a pawpaw, after all?) Unlike your grocery store, you never know what you’ll find from creative farmers. So keep an open mind, ask lots of questions and surprise your taste buds.
  4. Shop early for selection, but late for deals. Veteran shoppers know that the choicest items will be snapped up within the first hour of the market’s opening. However, if you’re looking for the best deals, many vendors would rather sell their stock at a steal than go home with a full truck. This also often holds true in bad weather when the crowds thin out.
  5. Come Prepared. The savvy shopper will always have the essentials on hand. Bring your own canvas tote bag or backpack to avoid starting a plastic bag collection. You’ll also want to bring reusable plastic bags, paper towels and a water bottle if you plan on picking up extremely perishable items like herbs or asparagus. Also, many vendors are cash only, so make sure to go to the ATM beforehand.

    Photo credit: Athens Farmer's Market Facebook page

    Photo credit: Athens Farmers Market Facebook page

  6. Plan ahead. The crop cycle changes throughout the year, so do your due diligence to see what’s in season before you head out. Knowing what to expect beforehand means you won’t be disappointed if what you’re looking for isn’t available.
  7. Keep an open mind. Flexibility is your best friend. While you might have your menu planned out for the week, don’t be surprised to find that one unexpected ingredient. Whether it’s honey sticks, artisan bread or heirloom tomatoes—expect the unexpected and don’t be afraid to veer off of your beaten path or away from your list.
  8. Take your time. Scope out all of the vendors before making your selections. You might be surprised by what you find at the end of the line, as prices and types of vendors will vary throughout.
  9. Bring the kids. From trying new foods to making new friends, kids can’t get enough of the farmers market. Let them to talk to the vendors, pick out some produce, grab a honey straw—just don’t forget the sunscreen.
  10. Buy more than just veggies. Most farmers markets nowadays (especially the Athens Farmers Market) offer more than produce. Whether you’re looking for local dairy products, free-range eggs, artisan bread, handcrafted jewelry, honey, canned and preserved items or home-baked goods, you’ll find it in Athens.

For the latest updates about the Athens farmers market, visit their Facebook page.

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