Ask the Expert: What is the Best Way to Shop a Farmer’s Market?

Make sure you're making the most of your trip with these expert tips.

farmers' market

Offerings at the Copley Square farmers’ market. Photo via Facebook

One of the great things about spring is being able to buy tons of fresh food at one of Boston’s many farmers’ markets. But we’ve all brought produce home only to have it rot the next day, or realized too late that we spent way too much on that quart of raspberries. To avoid any future farmers’ market mistakes, we asked Jeff Cole, executive director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, for his best tips.

Q: How can I shop at farmers’ markets effectively?

A: Shopping at a farmers’ market is fun. Talking to the producer or their staff is a big advantage.

Understanding what produce is in season and thinking about recipes that use crops of the season can be one of the most helpful strategies for shopping at a farmers’ market. Most markets have websites. On the website you may be able to find out which farmers and vendors attend the market and what products they will have that week. Or visit Mass Farmers Markets’ website to find out more about markets across the state, what’s in season, and to find recipes for local products all season long.

When you arrive at the market, check the different stands to see the full array of possibilities. Not all farmers grow the same crops and even if they do, different varieties of the same crop often look and taste different. And to make things more complex and interesting, the same varieties grown on different soils and with different agricultural practices also taste differently. You will also find meat farmers and farmstead cheeses to choose from.

Most farmers have the advantage of growing multiple crops and varieties over the course of a few years and tasting them right in the field before bringing them to market for you.  Take advantage of their knowledge by asking questions, and you will create your own sense of these differences. Helpful questions include:

  • Where is your farm?
  • Did you raise this on your farm?
  • When was it picked?
  • What variety is this?  What’s special about it or why did you choose to grown this variety over others?
  • What is your favorite variety?  Why?
  • How soon should I eat this for best quality?
  • Do you have a favorite way of eating/cooking it or any recipes you recommend?