I’m one of those people who love farmers’ markets for the atmosphere but often end up leaving empty-handed. Abundance makes me listless, and all I can do is pull out my phone and take pictures of a halved yellow watermelon or piles of golden squash blossoms, then head back to my car – coffee sweaty ice cream in one hand and my phone in the other – as my empty tote bag flaps in the breeze.
Even though pictures of vegetables make great home screens, I would much rather have a fridge stocked with fresh produce to sustain me all week. Sure, you can order boxes that deliver produce to your doorstep and grocery stores you can visit, but nothing beats the feeling of walking through an aromatic outdoor farmer’s market with a plan.
Here’s what professional LA-area farmers’ market vendors, chefs, and buyers recommend so you can actually buy what you need at farmers’ markets stress-free.
1. Plan ahead
To avoid feeling overwhelmed at the farmer’s market, make a list depending on what you plan to cook for the week. “I think it’s very important to plan ahead. Decide the night before what you plan to do. … When you show up at the market, you have an idea of the ingredients you want to buy and use,” Bar Lis chef Jose Contreras said while piling late-season Sungold tomatoes into a cardboard box at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market.
A list is also useful for save money and avoid food waste. Seller Shae Seward from Shoemaker replied, “Have a list so you don’t end up buying things you don’t need and try to stick to your list. Don’t just roam the aisles like you do in the supermarket…because you will inevitably buy what you weren’t looking for.
2. Define the territory
Los Angeles County is home to dozens of farmers marketsand each market has something different to offer. For example, the Alhambra Farmers Market has a great selection of Asian produce. “I have a tendency to go a bit before it opens to avoid everyone. Usually I check which farms are at which markets, since I have favorite ingredients among specific ingredients. Hollywood and Santa Monica are my favorites, but Pasadena has been really good on Saturdays lately! said chef, baker and Jell-O artist Lexie Park of Eat nonchi.
I met microgreen grower Jon Ho from Ho.Listic Operations to Redondo Beach Farmers Market. He recommends checking online marketplaces first. “Like at school, we want to be prepared. Try finding a few marketplaces on social media and see if they have a list of vendors. … Then you can go to the market and price it. You don’t have to feel pressure to buy anything right away.
3. Bring a cart
While most people go to the farmers market with a few crumpled bags, I usually find myself stuffing 20 tangerines into my purse. Experts recommend a bearing Cart/bag or a bag with handles that don’t cut into the palm of your hand. “I always bring a cart to avoid having to carry bags,” Park said. Mona Welch, a frequent shopper at Westwood’s Hollywood Farmers Market, recommends bringing empty yogurt containers for small purchases, “so they don’t get crushed.”
4. Let the seasons guide you
California barely has seasons, but that doesn’t mean our products aren’t seasonal. do some to research in advance. Or, Welch recommends, “Ask what is good right now. Act like you don’t know anything and trust the farmers.” You can also just observe your surroundings and watch what is plentiful and what others are buying.
5. Put your phone away and make friends with vendors
Many vendors have “no photos” signs, so keep your phone in your pocket and strike up a conversation. Who knows? Maybe the farmer will throw you an extra head of cabbage. “I don’t need to sell tough people because if they like the experience, they’ll come back…and establish a foundation of trust,” said cheesemaker Jaz Persing of Creamery Stepladder. Sellers are also keen to share recipes and techniques, like Erika Wain Decker of Klausesbees at Monrovia Farmers Market. “I can give new ideas on how to use honey if you are unfamiliar!”
6. Bring cash
Money is not dead after all. “Most vendors accept cards, but it helps to bring cash,” recommends Park. And the sellers agree. Atef Alomari from Brother Products at the Monrovia Farmers Market told me that although they accept cards, they “prefer cash” to avoid those extra credit card charges.
seven. Don’t forget the samples
So your phone is put away. Your cart is rolling. You have a list in hand and money in your pocket. You’re ready to shop smart… but don’t forget the free samples! There aren’t many places left outside of Costco that offer free samples. What better way to befriend farmers and learn about new seasonal ingredients and produce than by trying them out for yourself?
“At the farmers’ market, you’ll see things you don’t see at regular markets. … Many sellers give samples. So you’re able to sample the products instead of buying something that caught your eye and then going home and not liking it,” said Seward of Cobblermania.
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