Do you want the freshest, most flavorful food available in your area? In that case, consider taking regular trips to your local farmers’ market. According to statistics from the Farmers Market Coalition, more than 85% of vendors at your local farmers’ market have traveled less than 50 miles to sell their products and produce. In comparison, produce found in chain supermarkets has often traveled on average more than 1,200 miles before reaching your local shelves. Some farmers’ markets are only open during peak harvest season, which typically runs from spring through early autumn. However, in some states, year-round markets thrive, often transitioning through the seasons to provide consumers with a variety of locally grown and locally made or sourced options that go beyond produce — including dairy products, fresh beef and poultry, homemade preserves, and locally sourced honey.
The best part, though, is the community connections farmers markets create between consumers and farmers. They provide a personal connection directly to the food source and people who devote their careers to sustaining our food system.
Shopping at the local farmers’ market also supports the local economy. Direct sales from local farmers to consumers ensure that money spent stays within the community. Yet individuals shopping on a budget often worry that the farmers’ market might be too expensive. How do prices differ between farmers’ markets and grocery stores? The answer depends on the product. Farmers’ market vendors, like other retailers, need to set prices that permit them to reasonably cover their costs.
To help you stretch your dollar as far as possible, Kelly O’Connor, RD, LDN, CDE, Diabetes Care Coordinator at Lifebridge Health Systems in Maryland, and Susan Weiner, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition, PLLC, and 2015 AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year, offer their top tips for making the most out of your farmers market budget.
Tip #1: Assess your options
Weiner suggests that her clients use this strategy at farmers’ markets. “Walk through the entire farmers’ market before making a purchase. That way. you won’t start buying at the first stand. After all, you might notice something at another stand that is more appealing to you and/or is listed at a better price or is better quality.”
Tip #2: Focus on multi-use food choices
O’Connor suggests focusing on foods that can be used in several different ways throughout the week. For example, “Apples can be eaten raw as a snack or baked into desserts or made into homemade applesauce. Similarly, carrots can be used as a simple snack, incorporated into side dishes at meals, or included in stews and casseroles.”
Tip #3: Store foods properly
Weiner reminds us that storing foods properly is key to making sure they stay fresh and maintains good flavor. Learn which foods need to be kept in the refrigerator versus on the counter or in the pantry. “Keep tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, and garlic in the pantry or on the counter, out of direct sunlight. This will help these items stay fresh and maintain their delicious taste,” recommends Weiner. “Fruits, like melons and pineapples, should only be refrigerated after they are sliced.” Another good tip: “Make sure to store all produce in perforated bags. Simply punch holes, about an inch apart, in plastic bags for this purpose. Waiting to wash your vegetables until you use them will also extend the shelf life,” says Weiner.
Seasonal Produce Chart.
Tip #4: Preserving produce for later
The advantage of shopping at a farmers’ market is the ability to buy the freshest product in bulk. One key possibility is to preserve or freeze food appropriately for use later. O’Connor recommends employing “fresh summer tomatoes to make tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes to use later in the year, or freezing, canning or making preserves with seasonal fruits like apples, peaches and berries.”
Tip #5: Organize for success
Weiner recommends organizing the refrigerator, counter, and pantry before going to the farmers market. An orderly kitchen not only helps remind you what ingredients you have on hand for meals and snacks but also ensures items won’t go to waste. An tidy pantry and refrigerator also provide more space to store items properly.
Tip #6: Establish a rapport with vendors
Communicating and developing relationships with your local farmers’ market vendors is key for getting the best deals, O’Connor points out. “Let vendors know what you are looking for and establishing a steady rapport can sometimes result in a discount or vendors may be able to set aside some of your favorites,” she says. “They can also be great resources for providing you with ideas and recipes for how to use produce items that you aren’t as familiar with, so you can expand the types of food you might try or buy.”
Putting nutritious, quality foods sourced from your local community on the table doesn’t need to be expensive. Devote time to a little bit of meal planning, organize the kitchen and pantry, and explore the farmers market for the best deals each week to set yourself up for success. Focusing on seasonal choices and communicating with vendors can also help you identify peak produce or new items to try. Expanding culinary skills by incorporating new recipes or culinary techniques to showcase fruits and vegetables as “all-stars” on the menu is a healthy choice for everyone and a great way to enjoy the freshest tastes of the season. After all, healthy eating for diabetes management should be delicious as well as nutritious.