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Budgets and bounty: 12 tips for shopping at farmers’ markets

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Farmers’ markets are a seasonal highlight for bargain hunters and pure food enthusiasts alike. Open-air shopping may boast the freshest organic produce, beautiful blooms, juiciest jams, and other wonderful farm offerings. Many communities offer weekly farm markets in downtown parks or plazas.

Are warm-weather farmers’ markets the best deals for smart shoppers?

12 tips for shopping at farmers’ markets

Here are a dozen practical pointers for picking up bargains and great buys without wearing out your wallet, your welcome, or your well-being at your local farmers’ market.

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1. Arrive early.

Produce is always freshest soon after picking, so the first shoppers of the day may have the best selections of the sweetest farm bounty. Early arrivals usually find great parking spots as well at local farmers’ markets.

2. Eat before shopping.

Veteran farmers’ market patrons enjoy healthy, hearty breakfasts before leaving home. Browsing on a full stomach ensures energy and cuts impulse buying, particularly for shoppers who cart young kids along.

3 Dress for the weather.

Comfortable clothing and sensible shoes are essentials for open-air shopping. Savvy consumers layer jackets or sweatshirts over lighter tops for changing temperatures. Wide-brimmed hats help with sun or rain protection and reduce glare on brighter days.

4. Use bug spray and sunscreen.

Even the cleanest fresh produce and flowers may attract flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and other pests. Bug spray is a must for farmers’ market shoppers. Don’t forget the sunscreen lotion or spray too.

5. Carry cash.

Farm market vendors usually don’t accept credit or debit cards, so shoppers must take plenty of cash. Experienced shoppers take along plenty of change and smaller bills to make transactions (and even bargaining) easier.

6. Make a list.

Clever cooks list essential ingredients before hitting local farmers’ markets. Still, flexibility is a must, as produce displays may change every week. String beans may be a bargain one week, while snap peas may be a better deal the next time.

7. Take totes.

Farm market offerings may be packaged in baggies or bins. Still, shoppers will be glad to have long-handled totes or market baskets to carry their fabulous fresh finds off.

8. Pack a cooler.

For longer trips, open-air bazaar buyers often keep coolers in their cars to keep perishables fresh for the homeward journey.

9. Browse before buying.

Locally, produce tends to ripen in season, making certain items popular at the farmers’ market in a given week. Ripe tomatoes or squashes may be displayed in multiple booths. It pays to survey the entire scene and do some comparison shopping before buying.

10. Ask questions.

Frequent and friendly shoppers may soon become acquainted with regular farm market vendors. Those who get to know the purveyors may be able to make specific requests and inquire about recipes, possible pesticide use, upcoming produce offerings, and more.

Smart shoppers will ask for small samples or even make offers for quantity discounts on favorite items.

11. Double back later.

Check back before closing for farmers’ market bargains.

Local shoppers enjoy an advantage, as they can return to favorite vendors later in the day to check for last-minute bargains. Few vendors enjoy loading up unsold merchandise at after a sale, so they may be willing to offer buyers reasonable discounts. Sometimes shoppers can pick up bundles of bonuses by being on the spot at the right time.

12. Go weekly.

What makes farmers’ markets the most fun? Besides the opportunity to pick out fresh produce and support local farming, these events offer a never-ending assortment of choices. Local shoppers enjoy an often unpredictable array of colorful and delicious healthy foods each week.

Smart consumers can select appealing in-season items with value and variety at warm-weather farmers’ markets. Open-air shopping admission is nearly always free, so jump right in at a local farmers’ market.

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