How to Make the Most of your Farmers Market Visit



There was a time not too long ago when the distance between farm and fork was not very far at all.

Even if a family didn’t live in the country, there was often a small garden in the backyard, and produce didn’t come canned; it came fresh and kids helped shell and cut and wash to get it ready for the dinner table.

About 50 years ago that all started to change when an emphasis was put on meal speed and convenience and not so much on eating local and eating fresh. That’s a pity, and the legacy we have to show for it includes a penchant for highly-processed foods and skyrocketing obesity.

Thank goodness a revolution in the way we eat is occurring. Whether it is a greater awareness of the problems associated with eating canned and packaged dishes or a desire to get back to a simpler way of life, many folks are returning to the earth.

Even if you don't have a plot of land suitable to grow your own veggies, you can still make healthy choices and support the local industry in your hometown by visiting one of Virginia's many farmers markets. We've compiled some guidelines so that you'll know what to expect at the market and so you'll have the best experience.

-Dress appropriately. Most farm stands/markets are outdoors. Bring an umbrella in rain or shine. Wear comfortable shoes. Wear light, loose fitting clothing. Wear a brimmed hat. Bring water to keep hydrated.

  -Bring a cooler—better yet, a cooler on wheels with a few reusable ice bricks for meats and delicate product. Also, bring lots of large sturdy canvas or nylon shopping bags, and consider collapsible shopping (or laundry) cart to haul around your finds.

-Plan your timing. If you get to the market early, you will have the best selection of product. If you get to the market late, you may find some great deals. Regardless, plan for an appropriate amount of time to get in, shop and get out; this isn’t a convenience store.

-Think about how you are going to use your purchases. Are you making dinner that night? Do you want some strawberries to freeze or make preserves? Are you going to make a big pot of soup and refrigerate it until later in the week? Have a game plan for your meals—but be flexible—you can’t predict Mother Nature and what she will have for you at the market this week.

-Ask lots of questions. Make sure that the produce is local and not trucked in. Depending on your priorities, find out if the offerings are organic or what pesticides are used. Ask for suggestions on how a product should be stored or some of the ways it may be used.

   -Try samples. Many farmers slice up fruit and produce for tastes; you may find some new favorites.

  -Know your seasons. Unless it is grown hydroponically, you aren’t going to get a tomato in April. Plan a little ahead and look on the market’s website to see what is fresh that week. Get online with your child ahead of time and try to anticipate what they may see at the market during the visit.

-Bring cash. Some producers take credit cards or checks, but most don’t. Also, because many folks pay with a $20, they may run short on change, so try to bring ones and fives.

-Also, keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Of course you will still have to shop at the grocery store, but try making a small change by shopping for at least 10 to 25 percent of your consumables at a farm stand/market.

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