Maybe it’s everyone’s New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier or buy local, but lately I have been invited by a number of friends to join them on their first trip to the farmers market. I always say yes to such an invitation; after all, it’s sort of like asking Imelda Marcos to go shoe shopping with you.
Inevitably, they ask me if there is anything they should know before the shopping trip. Like all good outings, preparation makes it more successful, so I have a standard list of tips I share.
Bring cash, preferably smaller bills. Showing up with a wad of $20 bills to buy $2-3 produce items can make the transaction more difficult. I typically start using larger bills to pay for items early in the week, so that by Saturday I have a collection of $1s and $5s for the market.
If you forget cash, the larger markets like Downtown and Sunset Valley have ATM machines close by. The Sustainable Food Center, the organizer of the Downtown and Triangle markets, also has a debit card machine at their information booth and for a small transaction fee they will give you wooden market tokens that you can spend like cash at any market booth.
Bring a bag (or bags) large enough to hold your purchases so that you don’t have to try to shop while juggling small plastic bags, which is what most of the vendors give out. I have a fantastic market bag that my friend Claire gave me as a gift or you can buy reusable bags at most grocery stores.
I also highly recommend the reusable bags from Blue Avocado, an Austin-based company, that designs the stylish bags with grocery shopping in mind. I also recommend leaving the bags in the trunk of your car so that you don’t find yourself bag-less at a market. I hook mine over the front door knob as soon as I unpack them so I can don’t forget to put them back in the car.
Wear something with pockets. Since you are fishing out money at every booth, it’s easier if you can pull your budgeted cash out of a pocket rather than digging through your wallet every time.
Wear comfortable shoes. Several of the markets are in grassy areas and this is not where you want to test out those new kitten heels.
Come with an open mind. I posted about this recently, but can’t emphasize it enough. Showing up at the market with your detailed grocery list won’t work and will probably frustrate you. Instead, come to the market, find what looks good and maybe pick out some things you’ve never tried before. I bought my first Rutabaga Wednesday night and can’t wait to try out a new recipe.
Several people commented on the last Living Local article that they are big planners and aren’t sure if they can come to the market without a list. Being a reformed planner myself, I totally respect that have a suggestion. When making your plan for the week, first review the list of what’s in season now (available on the Edible Austin and SFC websites) and subscribe to the e-mail list for your favorite markets and vendors. The weekly e-mail updates often include a list of what to expect that week and for vendors like Dai Due and Kocurek Family Charcuterie, you can pre-order items to pick up at the market.
If you have a smart phone, I also highly recommend downloading a recipe application or two, so that you can look up possible recipes for an unexpected find while you are there. I save interesting recipes to a database/note application called Evernote and tag them by key ingredients so that I can find them easily. I also use the Epicurious app to find new recipes.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore. While it’s possible to blaze in and out of the market in 30 minutes, I suggest giving yourself at least an hour the first few times you visit so that you can get the feel for the market, visit with the farmers and vendors and even enjoy a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. Remember, as much as you are there to buy food, the market is fun!
I hope to see you at the market soon and, if you need a shopping buddy, let me know – I never turn down a good market day!