Farmers markets are no secret anymore. They fit into the growing trends of buying local and knowing and trusting the source of our food. What can be better than buying produce grown right down the road and likely picked the same morning by someone you can interact with?

Rebecca Dittmar, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist for nutrition and food sciences, Kerrville, explains how to get the most out of a visit to your local farmers market.

Buy in-season produce

Learning to buy in-season can be very beneficial, Dittmar explained. However, depending on where you are located, the term in-season can differ greatly. So being familiar with what is truly in-season will help you get fresh produce at reasonable prices. Certain produce could be marked a little higher at the beginning and the end of the growing season due to fewer growers having it available.

It is also good to keep in mind that not all produce will be uniformly shaped or shiny like often seen at the grocery stores. You may even still catch a bit of dirt from the morning harvest.

Get to know farmers

Farmers markets are exactly what the name says. Local farmers coming together to share the produce they have grown and harvested. If you have questions regarding the produce, talk to the farmers. They have spent months caring for the food they are sharing with consumers and know exactly what has gone into each item they sell. Talking to each farmer is incredibly important because the way one vendor operates may not be the same as how the next vendor functions.

“If you are concerned about what products are applied to your produce or how it is grown, ask those questions, because those farmers should have those answers for you. How is it handled? How is it harvested?” said Dittmar.

Bring Cash

More and more markets are accepting different types of payments, but that is not always the case. Check beforehand to know what they will and will not accept, but it is always good to be prepared with some cash on hand, she said.

Plan trips to the farmers market like the grocery store

“Think about your market layout,” said Dittmar. “Visit the farmers market like you would plan a trip to the grocery by getting your shelf and stable products first and your cold stuff last.”

It is also good to keep an insulated cooler on hand for any cold products, so they will remain cold for the duration of your trip and ride home.

Avoid cross-contamination

Reusable bags and wagons are seen often at the farmers markets. Be sure to bag your groceries properly, to keep your purchases safe on the return home. Assigning your bags according to produce, ready-to-eat foods and non-food items is a good way to keep things separate and safe. Place raw meat and poultry into a disposable plastic bag before placing in reusable bags, Dittmar said. Fresh eggs should not come in contact with food items.  

“Remember to launder, store and use your bags appropriately to avoid the risk of cross contamination and the spread of harmful pathogens and germs,” she said.

Choosing your produce

In general, choose fresh, non-bruised, non-wilted produce and stay within season.

Things to keep in mind when purchasing:

  • Lettuce: Store red leaf lettuce in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator for up to one week after purchase. Keep lettuce dry. Don’t wash until ready to eat. Avoid lettuce that has brown edges or show signs of slime or insect damage.
  • Squash: Look for squash that is tender but firm. Squash should be heavy in relation to size and look fresh. Avoid squash with a dull appearance. Wash squash well before use. Avoid over mature squash with a hard or tough surface.
  • Tomatoes: Select ripe tomatoes that are well formed, smooth and free from blemishes. Look for overall rich red color and a slight softness. Wash tomatoes well before use. Avoid tomatoes that are overripe or bruised.
  • Peppers: Peppers should have firm walls and be relatively heavy in weight. Wash peppers well before use. Avoid peppers with thin walls or peppers with soft water spots.
  • Fruits: Select ripe fruit with good color. Wash all fruit well before use. Avoid overly soft or damaged fruit.
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