I’ve never been sticker-shocked anywhere as much as at the farmer’s market. Clothing boutiques? Sure. Following a minute of wistfully fingering a rack of dresses near the entrance, I know–without even looking a single price tag–when everything is out of my league. Same goes for a sleek little storefront selling housewares or a jewelry shop: rarely am I delightfully surprised by a friendly price tag. But a greenmarket? There’s no comparison.
Sure, the overflowing baskets of produce have a price per pound listed, but it’s hard to know what that really means. Six or seven peaches and we’re already at a couple of pounds and therefore already past the ten dollar mark. For peaches! In July!
After an incident with tomatoes last summer (where I was courageous enough to tell the helpful farmer’s assistant weighing and bagging my ripe heirlooms that, you know what, I didn’t realize it was going to cost so much and I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough cash!), I ended up leaving with a single red and yellow bulbous-looking barely-round tomato and beelined for the deli near my apartment to pick up the rest of what I needed.
Briefly, I avoided the greenmarket, except on the rare occasion when garlic was at its peak or bundles of basil could be had for half the the price and twice the taste of the supermarket variety, but I remained envious of greenmarket-shopping folks, those families hauling overflowing reusable cloth bags filled with fresh herbs, seasonal vegetables and hormone-free pork products.
More recently, however, I became determined to put an end to my farmer’s market fears and figured out a way to beat the system, er, that is shop for local and organic goodies without going totally broke.
1. Arrive armed with a list. It pays (literally!) to know what you intend to buy. If you go with the idea that you’ll just choose whatever looks good, you might end up with a boatload of product, some of which will go unused. Just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) go to the supermarket hungry, the same holds true for the greenmarket. Only buy what you need and what you’re sure you’ll use.
2. Think about your recipes and the ingredients needed. If strawberries over vanilla ice cream is the featured dessert at the Memorial Day party, then you want the best berries you can find. To compensate, don’t splurge on the most expensive ice cream available. Think about it like this: if it won’t negatively impact a dish, what don’t you need to get from the farmer’s market?
3. Talk to the farmers. Robyn O’Brien, a former food industry analyst and mother of four, encourages consumers to get to know their local farmers. “Get to know your food,” she says. To that end, find out what’s truly worth it and what’s worth skipping. If your list includes ten items, but you find yourself overspending early, see what you can cut out of the list this week and treat your family to the nex