Fun (and Savings) at Your Farmers Market
Since the birth of BrokeAss Gourmet, I’ve been asked on several occasions for insider tips on money-saving gourmet food shopping. There are many answers. I always recommend Trader Joes for pantry basics. An herb garden is a wonderful and inexpensive way to always have fresh herbs on hand. A CSA box split between friends can be an affordable way to access fresh, locally-grown produce. But for my money (and time), nothing beats a friendly-vendor-live-music-filled, visit to my local farmers market.
There is a belief shared by many that shopping at a farmers market is more expensive than grocery store shopping, but I have found that with just a little bit of thought and planning, you can find great deals on fresh, often organic goods, all while supporting your local community and having quite a bit of fun. Just follow a few guidelines:
Bring your own bags. OK, obviously you do this already (if you don’t, wake up and smell the Envirosax), but beyond big reusable grocery bags, save and reuse plastic produce bags, as many vendors now charge $0.25 and up for new ones.
Show up late. In my experience, showing up at my farmers market during its final hour has many benefits. First of all, the crowd has begun to clear out, so there is less of a wait at vendors’ stalls and cruising the streets is freer. More importantly, most vendors are eager to get rid of their goods and so will either lower their starting prices, or be willing to bargain. Two weeks ago I bought 2 generously-filled cartons of figs for $3 (previously $4/carton) because I arrived at the fig stand just as they were closing. Obviously, I was psyched. You know how I feel about figs.
Meat, fish, eggs and dairy are great but buy them in smaller quantities. If I weren’t on a budget, I would buy 100% of my meat, fish, eggs and dairy at the farmers market, but obviously, given the title of this blog, I am. However, I believe in supporting all local agriculture, so I still partake in the deliciousness of such products available, I just do so sparingly. A special cheese to try, a 6-pack of farm-fresh eggs, a small package of sausages—it can all be done on limited funds—just choose wisely.
Go consistently and befriend vendors. I got a huge bag of poblano chilies for free last week. Yes, free. Why? Because the purveyor at one of my favorite vegetable stands thinks I’m charming—and also because he appreciates that I show up every week to buy from him. He almost always throws in a little extra something for me when I stop by, and never fails to cut me a great deal. Kindness and loyalty count at the farmers market—and as my grandfather always said, it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.
If farmers market shopping isn’t already a part of your life, I encourage you to incorporate it. If you don’t know where the market closest to you is, go here. Saving money feels good, especially when you can support your community’s agriculture and local economy at the same time. Plus, you know when Michelle Obama likes something it’s got to be cool.