A Beginner’s Guide to Farmers' Markets: What to Know Before You Go

Some frequently asked questions for the farmers' market virgin

If you're going to a farmers market, come prepared. 

Walk into any grocery store, and one can normally spot a variety of conventionally and organically grown produce. Yet, even if produce is labeled "organic," there really are no guarantees that it’s grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic altering, ionizing radiation, or sewage. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards changing to accommodate larger companies, and with more and more lobbyists taking control, the definition of "organic" is ever changing.

What’s different about farmers' markets is they carry the pinnacle of healthy, seasonal produce, as well as locally made crafts, jewelry, and baked goods. Farmers are also present to answer any questions you have in mind — like whether sustainable practices are used. If you’re new to the idea of shopping at a farmers' market, check out some of the FAQs below.

Be sure to also take a look at our Green Market Glossary, which explains the many food labels you’ll find at the farmers' market.

When Should I Get There?

Get there early if you’re looking for a large selection, or if you simply prefer produce that is the least handled. Generally, this means arriving before 10 a.m. On the flip side, most bargains and sales happen in the last hour the market is open.

Is Everything Organic?

Not everything. However, that is the beauty of having the farmers present; you are able to ask the questions that are important to you.

What Questions Should I Ask?

You’ll find that most farmers are happy to share their knowledge and answer any of your questions — they’re expecting questions pertaining to how their food is grown and the best ways to prepare their harvest. Also, don’t be afraid to ask which fruits and vegetables they recommend. Even farmers have their favorites when they cook at home.

What Should I Buy?

Go with an open mind, and aim to buy a rainbow of colors. A refrigerator full of dark, leafy greens, bright red beets, crisp orange carrots, and sunny yellow summer squash can mean a variety of meal options and plenty of nutrients. If you are unfamiliar with unique produce, there are now iPhone apps that can define even the most peculiar-looking fruit or vegetable. Lastly, aim to buy enough produce for three to four days, which is the average time fruits and vegetables stay at their peak.

Should I Bring Anything?

Always bring a few reusable burlap bags, as well as some varied bills and change. Most farmers will not have a debit or credit card machine available, and appreciate those that can make their own change. If you live close by, a wheel cart is also useful for transporting a full bounty back to home.

— Jesse Nattamai, HellaWella


More From HellaWella:

4 steps to becoming a locavore this spring

Green market glossary: Farmers market labels demystified

Top 10 reasons organic food is so expensive

An apple a day: Guide to the fall’s best apples

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