shopping at the farmers' market on a budget
If you are already a farmers’ market shopper then you probably know that locally grown food just tastes better! Plus, it’s healthier for us because food purchased so soon after harvest retains more of its nutrients, also giving us more bang for our buck. Additionally, farmers’ markets give us all the opportunity to contribute to our local economy and the resiliency of our food system.
However, finding room in our budgets for local foods can be difficult for many of us. By talking with many savvy farmers’ market customers, we have come up with some helpful ideas for shopping at farmers’ markets on a budget.
Read on to get some real everyday tips!
Let's Start with Clearing up a Myth: “Farmers markets are more expensive than grocery stores” Studies prove that produce at farmers’ markets is no more expensive than at chain supermarkets, especially in rural areas like Humboldt County. Big grocery stores need to charge extra for things like food transportation across the country or internationally, plus all those hidden costs that markup the price like electricity and rent. The farmer will simply charge what it costs for them to grow the product and bring it to market.
TIP #1: Eating Seasonally Saves Money Prices will vary by time of year. While the demand for some very special and rare items may remain high, you will find that most prices will fluctuate and then drop as the item comes fully into season. These lower prices provide a great opportunity to can, dry or freeze. Ask your favorite farmers when they may have flats available of your favorite fruits. Flats are often cheaper than buying what’s on the table, and sometimes flats come at an extra special discount if the fruit is especially ripe. Budget ahead for these bulk buys that will save you money in the long run!
TIP #2: Make a Shopping List (and Stick to it) Make your shopping list based on a menu you have planned for the week. Match your recipe plans with a local seasonal produce calendar. You may want to include ingredients for some favorite side dishes that can go with any meal like a cucumber salad or brussel sprouts. Don't forget to include year-round staples like salad greens. “I find that going with a list is probably the most money-saving thing we do because then I have a plan for how I’ll use everything I buy and try not to buy too many things off-list. It’s easy to get swept away by how delicious it all looks and get more than we might actually end up getting around to cooking”. Maggie, farmers’ market shopper
TIP #3: Set Your Day’s Budget Arrive at market with a set maximum budget for your day. Most of us get thrown off our shopping list plans by the day’s unexpected “star of the show” item, and that’s ok! But be sure to keep enough cash in hand for all those staple items that you came for. “Getting to market first thing in the morning helps me stick to my budget and list because nothing is sold out yet. I like to systematically and efficiently get though my list before the crowds arrive and distract my focus”. Tina, farmers’ market shopper
TIP #4: Choose Quality over Beauty Sounds like dating advice, doesn't it? You may notice that some farmers will have their food set at a lower price when they don’t look quite as glorious as the same item at their neighbor’s booth. These will most often be just as nutritious and delicious, while saving you a few bucks here and there. Examples: especially ripe fruit (perfect for baking) or small heads of broccoli or lettuce (just as tasty).
TIP #5: At home, don't let your farmers’ market scraps go to waste Save your veggie scraps in a sealed bag or glass jar in your freezer. Once your bag or jar fills up you can use these scraps to make delicious broth! Or, feed your scraps to chickens or your compost bin, to give nutrients and energy to your food in the future. “The broth I make from farmers’ market scraps tastes even better than store bought. Plus, then I don't have to feel bad about throwing away unnecessary packaging”. Julie, farmers’ market shopper
TIP #6: Our Green Thumb is Your Green Garden Fruit and veggie starts and plants found at the farmers’ market are selected because they are proven to do well in our unique climate, so you can rest assured that your plants are likely to grow strong and produce an abundance of home grown fruits and veggies. Growing food in a small backyard garden can save you money on your grocery bills.
TIP #7: Ask Us About EBT and Market Match The North Coast Growers Association operates various programs that address food insecurity in our community to help make fresh local food available to everyone. In partnership with many local and national organizations as well as local donors, our programs support low-income kids, adults, seniors and families with the EBT with Market Match, Rx for Farmers’ Market, and other programs. We can also assist you with your CalFresh application at market. Just ask!
Visit the farmers’ market info booth for guides for growing fruits and vegetables in Humboldt, as well as food preservation guides for instructions on drying fresh beans, canning your favorites, making fruit leather and more. Also see our free Guide to Seasonal Eating in Humboldt which features a month-by-month calendar.