8 ways to shop smarter at farmers markets


Photo: Kristopher Fritters, from Flickr

Shopping at farmers markets is one of the joys of the Ottawa growing season. Just-picked produce, newly baked bread, homemade preserves, cooking demonstrations, specialty festivals and fairs: what’s not to love?

You can enjoy the experience even more and shop smarter at the same time by following a few simple steps, says Andy Terauds of Acorn Creek Garden Farm in Carp.  A regular presence at the Ottawa Farmers Market and the Carp Farmers Market, Terauds and his wife, Cindy, grow over 2,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowering and vegetable plants. They also sell Cindy’s preserves under the Naturally Cindy’s label.

  1. Buy what you like and what looks good.

It may sound obvious, but Terauds says many customers come to the market with a specific recipe and are disappointed if the ingredients they want aren’t in season.  Instead, it works better to buy good-looking produce you know you’ll enjoy and then look for a recipe to go with it.  Most vendors can offer suggestions on how to prepare their produce.

  1. Sample the food.

If five vendors are selling asparagus, which one do you buy from? According to Terauds, taste should be the clincher. “Try the samples vendors provide. That’s true for corn, too. If it’s not good raw, it’s not good. Better taste is why people buy local food.”

  1. Don’t buy from the cheapest vendor.

Selling cheap can be a sign that the taste or quality isn’t up to snuff. What’s more, when you pay better prices, you reward farmers for their hard work and motivate them to keep improving.

  1. Come early.

Fruit and veg that sit out in the weather deteriorate through the day, so come early for the freshest, most varied selection. If the market opens at 8 a.m., be there at 8 a.m., Terauds counsels. But don’t come earlier because vendors will be setting up and won’t be able give you their full attention. Besides, every vendor has something that’s in short supply; having to sell it before the market opens means less for people who come during business hours.

  1. Call ahead for big orders.

Need bushels of produce for canning or preserves? Don’t try to buy them at the market. Call the farmer ahead of time to negotiate a price and arrange for delivery.

  1. Bring bags and pay cash.

Depending on the weather, bring waterproof bags for breads and cheeses, or a cooler for anything that deteriorates in warm temperatures, such as soft fruit, dairy or meat.

Since most vendors don’t take credit or debit cards, bring cash, preferably small bills and change.

  1. Dress for the weather.

You’ll have a better time if you’re dressed for the weather so make sure you have the proper gear, including suitable footwear.

  1. Make the market an event.

Shopping at a farmers market is a social experience and one that appeals directly to the senses. Soak it all in. Make your market visit into an event. Have a snack, talk to the vendors, watch a chef demonstrate a new recipe. “It’s a different experience to shopping at a supermarket chain,” Terauds says. “Take advantage of the differences and enjoy them.”

The May 16 Ottawa Citizen offers a rundown of what’s new and exciting at area markets this season. To find the market nearest you, check the Ottawa Farmers Market Guide.

What’s your favourite farmers market in the Ottawa area? What do you enjoy about it most?

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One Response to “8 ways to shop smarter at farmers markets”

  1. I like your advice and I have a bit of my own that I thought I’d share. One of the things I love about farmers’ markets is the relationships I build with the vendors. I always give myself lots of time to shop so I can hear their news and share how I’ve been using their products. Budgeting extra time also allows me to be patient with others who are doing the same. It’s no fun to be rushed when you’re trying to get the latest on how the kids and the carrots are coming along.

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