Shopping at farmers markets
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Katie Spoden, AmeriCorps VISTA Member — Extension Food Access Project, and Mary Vitcenda, Senior Editor
July 2015; reviewed April 2017 by Laura Perdue, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition.
Wondering what’s involved with shopping at Minnesota farmers markets? This short guide answers your questions about everything from choice of foods to buy to choice of payment methods and whether you can bring your pets (sorry, no) or your children (yes, please) to farmers markets. Read the online guide below or access the print-friendly PDF: Shopping at farmers markets (PDF).
When is the best time of day to shop at a farmers market?For the best selection, go early. Sometimes the most popular items can sell out within the first hour. For the best deals, go late. Vendors are often willing to sell for less so they don’t have to take produce back to the farm.
How do I find out whether a farmers market accepts EBT, credit, or debit cards?
Check the website, Facebook, or Twitter page of your local farmers market to see if it accepts EBT, credit, or debit cards. You can find lists of Minnesota farmers markets accepting EBT cards on the following websites:
- Find Your Local farmers market — University of Minnesota Extension
- Minnesota Grown Directory — Minnesota Grown
- Local Food Directories: National farmers market Directory — U.S. Department of Agriculture
What if I want to pay in cash?
Paying in cash is fine, but bring small change. Purchases go faster if you have exact, or near-exact, change to pay vendors.
Do I need to bring bags to a farmers market?
Unlike retail grocery stores, most farmers markets do not provide paper or plastic bags for shoppers to carry their purchases. Therefore, it’s recommended that you bring your own bags to a farmers market — preferably reusable bags or totes made of cloth or canvas, or backpacks. You may also bring used paper or plastic bags from grocery stores.
May I bring my children?
Absolutely! Farmers markets are a great place for children to learn and be outside.
Many farmers markets offer activities for children and adults, such as craft workshops, as well as live music and other educational programming. Check out your local farmers market website or Facebook or Twitter pages to see what activities are available. Note that children must be respectful of other shoppers and vendors. A farmers market may be outside, but it is still a place of business. Involving your children in shopping and selecting produce at farmers markets, and then helping you prepare the food at home, are good ways to pique their interest in trying new fruits and vegetables.
May I bring my pets?
Please leave your pets at home. Because of food safety concerns, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture allows only service animals and police dogs within a farmers market area of operation.
If I don’t know how to prepare some foods I buy at the farmers market, who do I ask?
The simple answer is: Ask the farmers! In other words, ask the people staffing a booth how to prepare the foods they’re selling. See if they will share some of their favorite recipes, too.
Many farmers markets also feature cooking demonstrations and sampling days. These are great opportunities to taste something new and learn how to prepare healthy meals using locally sourced foods. Check your local farmers market website or Facebook and Twitter pages for announcements of upcoming events.
For recipes using foods commonly found at a Minnesota farmers market, check out these tasty meal ideas on our Farmers market recipes page.
One other word of advice: Be adventurous. Trying new foods is part of the farmer market experience.
How can I stretch my food dollars at a farmers market?
Shopping at farmers markets saves you money because the markets have lower overhead costs than grocery stores. Shoppers using EBT cards also can save money through the Market Bucks program, which matches up to $10 spent at a farmers market — every time you visit the market! Find out more about the Market Bucks program.
You also can take steps to save money on fruits and vegetables — the primary foods sold at farmers markets. The best ways to save money on fresh fruits and vegetables are to buy them in season and reduce waste through proper storage and preparation. Follow these tips:
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season (see more information below). Seasonal fruits and vegetables have more flavor and are usually less expensive than out-of-season varieties.
- Create a meal plan for the week that features in-season fruits and vegetable prepared in different ways.
- Add leftover vegetables to soups and casseroles and leftover fruits to smoothies or baked goods. You can even add some overripe fruits to smoothies or baked goods without compromising flavor.
- Store fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator or freezer soon after getting home from a shopping trip to ensure quality and longevity. Prompt storage also keeps foods safe (see more information below).
- To prevent waste of overripe fruit, use it in smoothies or in baking.
- Buy in volume whenever possible — you’ll get the most for your money.
What does it mean for foods to be ‘in-season?’ What foods are in season at which times?
Farmers markets are a great space to explore what it means to eat “seasonally.” Most Minnesota farmers markets sell only locally grown foods, meaning they are planted and harvested in keeping with the state’s climate, soil, and relatively short growing season.
Some Minnesota farmers markets sell foods grown outside the state, but for the most part you won’t find foods like bananas, oranges, or avocados at your local farmers market.
Check out this calendar from Minnesota Grown to see when your favorite locally grown fruits and vegetables are in season: What's in Season.
How do I keep my food safe?
Here are some tips for keeping foods purchased at a farmers market safe to eat:
- Choose produce that is free of all signs of bruising or spoiling. Signs include broken or slimy skin or soft spots.
- Go directly home from the market. As noted earlier, foods will decline in quality, and perishable foods like meat and eggs can pose food-safety problems if left sitting too long in a vehicle.
- Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing produce.
- Wash produce immediately before you use it, not when you bring it home. Washing produce before storing it speeds up spoilage. Instead, rinse produce under clean, running water just before preparing or eating it. Rub produce briskly to clean surfaces, and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Questions or Comments?
Learn the how’s and why’s of local food on the FoodRoutes Network website.
Contact the SNAP-Ed Team for more information.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture. (2011). Operational guidelines for farmers’ market vendors.United States Department of Agriculture. (2015). 10 Tips Smart shopping for veggies and fruits.
Seven reasons to shop at Minnesota farmers markets — Find out why shopping at farmers markets is beneficial to both individuals and Minnesota communities. English | español