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How to Navigate the Farmer's Market

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Shopping at a farmer's market pumps money back into the local economy, and it allows you to fill your bags with the freshest local fruits and vegetables. With farmer's markets popping up everywhere from small towns to big cities, they're more accessible than ever. Go to LocalHarvest.com to find a market near you. If you're new to farmer's markets, use the eight tips below to get the most out of your next shopping trip.

1. Bring cash.

Many farmer's markets only accept cash, so stop by the ATM. You can also call the market manager to see if they accept credit or debit cards. Some markets use a token system where you can purchase tokens at a kiosk with your credit or debit card and use tokens as cash at the booths.

2. Bring your own bag and cooler.

Many farmers don't provide bags for their food, so bring some reusable grocery bags. It helps reduce waste at the farmer's market and in your home. If you're planning to purchase milk, eggs, cheese, or meat, bring along a small cooler with an ice pack.

3. Arrive early.

The best deals are often available first thing in the morning when the market opens. Plus, farmers only bring a certain amount of each item, so getting there early increases the odds that you'll get what you want. After you arrive, take a lap around the market to see what is available that day and determine where you want to buy your produce.

4. Get to know your farmer.

Talking to a farmer will give you an opportunity to learn more about their farming practices. Organic certification can be very costly, so small farmers will often choose to follow organic guidelines without the official certification. Ask your farmer how they grow their produce. Your farmer can also be a great resource for recipes and tips on canning and preparing the food you buy.

5. Don't focus on looks.

Unlike the perfectly polished produce you often find at the grocery store, farmer's market produce may look strange or ugly. That's OK. Blemishes can be great indicators that the food is homegrown or even organic. Homegrown foods, unlike mass-produced crops, are also less likely to be oversized. Farmer's markets are also a good place to find fruits and veggies you may not recognize. Challenge yourself to try something new each time you shop. You may be surprised by what you like.

6. Learn the best time to buy.

The best time to buy produce at the farmer’s market is when it’s in season. While it's tempting to run out and buy your favorite produce as soon as it hits your local farmer's market, wait a few weeks to save money. The price will drop after the food item is initially introduced for the season. 

7. Know when to buy organic.

Buying organic produce is one of the best ways to avoid unwanted chemical sprays and preservatives. There are 12 fruits and vegetables, known as the Dirty Dozen, which should be purchased as organic whenever possible. The Dirty Dozen includes apples, asparagus, bell peppers, blueberries, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, grapes, peaches, pears, peas, strawberries, and tomatoes.

8. Store produce properly.

Families throw away 14 to 25 percent of the food they buy, which equals $1,365 to $2,275 of wasted money each year. To save your family money, learn how to store food for long-lasting freshness. The biggest problem is that some produce releases ethylene gas that can cause other produce to ripen and spoil too quickly. For tips to properly store food and make it last longer, read "How to Store Fresh Foods."

Tags: Health, Food