The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

How To Shop At Farmers Markets Without Going Broke

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 10, 2015 1:45PM

Fresh produce from last weekend's Green City Market. Photo by Anthony Todd.
Farmers market shopping is healthy, fun, delicious and good for communities and the environment. But it is affordable? The answer is: It depends on how you do it.

If you only buy the first tomatoes of the season at Green City Market for $5 each, farmers markets can seem even less affordable than the notoriously paycheck-gobbling Whole Foods. But if you follow a few simple, common sense tips, you can get a huge haul of fresh, delicious food for not very much money.

Last week, Good Food on Every Table rounded up some great tips and tricks for making your farmers market dollars go further. They did this in honor of farmers market week, but the tips apply every day of the year.

Some of the tips are relatively obvious, like comparison shopping between farmers and buying in-season rather than out of season. Others are super smart tips that we'd never thought of before, like buying "bulky."

"Many items for sale at farmers markets are priced per piece. So you can make your dollars go farther if you buy the larger sizes of those items. In most cases, the quality and flavor is going to be the same regardless of size. So if a four-pound melon costs the same as a two-pound melon, why not get the bigger one?"

Be sure to look for "seconds," the so-called ugly fruits and veggies that aren't perfect and photo-worthy. They'll likely be cheaper, but they might not even be on display, so you'll have to ask the vendor for them. This is especially good if you're a canner at home and they're going to be chopped up anyway.

One of our favorite tips that didn't make their list: in addition to comparison shopping between vendors, be sure to comparison shop between markets, as farmers sometimes change prices to suit the neighborhood. That same pint of blueberries that costs $7 at Green City Market might cost $5 in Andersonville, so it's worth exploring all of the neighborhood markets around the city.

The basic thread running through all great farmers market shopping? Get to know the farmers and ask plenty of questions. They'll tell you when they have cheap produce in bulk (they need to get rid of it before it spoils!), they'll let you know if they are also appearing at other markets (in order to make it worth their while to come, there has to be traffic) and they'll tell you what's perfectly ripe and what could wait another week or so. Talking to your farmers: It's fun and cost-effective!