Shopping for fresh fruits and veggies at outdoor markets is one of the best parts of summer — but without the coupons and rewards you use to pay less at the supermarket, it can get pricey. Luckily, there are still ways to score bargains. Below, expert shoppers offer their secrets to saving big on seasonal produce from the farmers market.
Buy like a chef.
“Sticking to a shopping list is savvy, but shopping like a chef — they buy what’s freshest and seasonal (and usually cheapest) that week — can help you save too. Adding fresh veggies to any pantry mainstays like pasta, rice, tortillas, and beans makes tasty, nutritious meals for practically pennies.” — Jenna Coleman, founder of ParticularPantry.com
Use all the bits to save more.
“At farmers markets, produce is minimally processed, which means that you get lots of extras that the supermarket typically removes. And they’re useful! For example, the carrot tops they leave on can actually make a delicious pesto. And when sautéed, beet greens, which they don’t remove, are a delicious dish that Southern cooks have whipped up for generations. I also save peels and tops when preparing veggies and end up saving money by creating sides, soups and stocks for basically free!” — Barb Webb, blogger at RuralMom.com
Join email lists.
“These days, farmers have become much more tech-savvy to help increase business. Many offer email lists you can join to get discounts and learn about specials for preorder, like sampler packs with their produce, or farm-made juices and jams, for up to 15 percent less than if you were to buy them individually at the market. Simply ask your favorite vendor if they have a list you can join!” — Amy Goldsmith, food consultant known as the Grocery Gal
Tell the farmer your cooking plans.
“The days of picking up and feeling produce yourself are over in the midst of the pandemic. But the upside in having farmers choose the perfect peach, avocado, or pepper is that they know how — and they’re happy to choose a piece to suit your needs. So if, say, you’re not going to cut a cantaloupe for a few days, tell the farmer and have them select a just-right melon that won’t go bad before you’re ready to cut it open.” — Barb Webb
Take a post-shop inventory at home.
“As you load your fresh produce haul into the fridge, make a list of what you purchased. Post it somewhere prominent, like on the door of the fridge or taped to a nearby cupboard, to make sure you don’t forget what’s stashed away. That way, you’re sure to use up what you bought before it goes bad. You can even make it a family competition to mark off items — whoever notices you’re serving a farmers market item can cross it off the list and win a small prize.” — Amy Goldsmith
Go for the uncommon.
“The secret to finding the best deals going at the market usually hinges on two things for savvy shoppers: First, look for stalls that sell ‘seconds’ — or produce that’s too small, ugly, or otherwise unable to command full price. Unless you plan to display picture-perfect produce, the less attractive ones usually taste just as good as beauties and can be used blindly in pies, jams, and soups. Second, skip the vendors with huge tents that you can walk into, and opt instead for the smaller stalls operating with a single table. They often have much better prices than their bigger competitors.” — Jenna Coleman
Score deals by attending virtual markets.
“Many farmers markets are going virtual and doing delivery or contact-free pickup. Simply log on to a website like Food4All.com, input your ZIP code, and see what farms are selling near you. You then order, pay online, and arrange for delivery or pickup. This cuts out the middlemen, so you can buy the freshest produce for a whole lot less!” — Jane Whitman, mom of three, Portsmouth, MA
Brave bad weather.
“The best time to go shopping for deals at the farmers market is when the weather isn’t ideal — foggy, misty, or rainy weather keeps the crowds away. If the market is short on shoppers, vendors are often more willing to make deals to move their goods, especially if you opt for bundles. For example, hitting the dairy farmer’s booth and buying a gallon of milk, a pound of butter, and a dozen eggs altogether can get you $2 off the total purchase and maybe a bonus or two for being the only one there. Shopping on slow days also helps keep sellers in business — so slip on your rain boots, grab an umbrella, and nab some great deals!” — Alex Tran, wellness blogger at Schimiggy.com
This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.