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Making the most of trips to the Farmers Market

The Fayette County Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday until Sept. 29. For the next two Saturdays, it will be located in the parking lot south of First United Methodist Church, 729 Central Ave. After that it moves back to its regular location, the Courthouse parking lot in the 400 block of Central. Pictured, tomato plants were among offerings on a recent Saturday.

From Purdue Extension Service

Spring and summer in Indiana bring budding trees and flowers, longer days, and the return of farmers markets. With over 150 farmers markets throughout the state, you are sure to find one near you.

Some of the larger markets can be overwhelming to navigate, making it difficult to know if you’re getting the best deals. Here are some tips to help you make the most of out of summer trips to your favorite farmers market.

• Before heading to the farmers market, decide on your budget. This will help you prioritize purchases and keep you from overspending. Another way to avoid going over budget is to bring cash. Paying with cash helps you keep track of the amount you’ve spent so you can more easily stick to your budget. And most farmers appreciate exact change and prefer cash.

• Don’t forget to bring your own reusable grocery bags. This keeps expenses down for farmers and is better for the environment!

• When you first arrive, avoid being overwhelmed with choices by browsing the entire market before making any purchases. See what each farmer is offering, what looks best, and who has the best prices. While you are browsing, talk to the farmers and ask questions about their produce.

Questions to ask at your local farmers market:

• Where is your farm located? The answer is important if you are interested in purchasing the freshest and most locally grown produce. The term “local” is typically defined as within 100-150 miles of the market.

• Did you grow or raise the produce you’re selling? Sometimes vendors buy wholesale items and resell them as their own. If you would rather purchase from a farmer instead of a wholesaler, this question is an important one to ask.

• What growing practices do you use? Some vendors may be USDA organic certified; however, many others adhere to sustainable practices but do not have the certification. The USDA organic certification is expensive and not always affordable to small-scale farmers. Without a visible USDA organic seal, you’ll have to ask how the farmer handles pests and diseases, especially if you’re interested in avoiding pesticides.

• When was the produce picked? Most farmers pick their produce the morning of the market to ensure peak freshness and maximum nutrition. You may want to pass if the produce was picked more than a day ago, because fruits and vegetables start losing nutrients once they are picked.

• How should I store and prepare my purchases? Farmers generally have great tips on storing and preparing the items they sell. Ask how long different items should last, so you can prioritize eating them. Also ask for recipes and ideas for consuming the items you’re purchasing. For example, ask how to use the greens attached to root veggies like beets and turnips. Did you know that you can eat the leafy green tops of carrots?

• Now that you’ve made a round through the market, talked to the farmers, and gotten the answers to your questions, it’s time to purchase the items that appeal to you. As you shop, purchase heavier, larger items first and more delicate and tender items last. This fills your grocery bags in a way that protects your purchases. Be mindful of how much you can consume during the upcoming week. You don’t want your food dollars to go to waste because the produce you purchased spoiled before you could eat all of it.

• You may get the best selection if you arrive early, but you may get the best deals if you arrive late. Farmers don’t like to pack up leftover goods and drive them back to the farm, so they’re likely to offer discounts near closing time.

Farmers work long, labor-intensive hours to bring you the best produce they can offer. So while produce at the farmers market may seem more expensive than from the grocery store, you’re getting much fresher, higher-quality produce while supporting local farmers.

Authors Angie Frost, alfrost@purdue.edu, and Arin Weidner, kozlowsa@purdue.edu, are both 4-H Extension Specialists at Purdue Extension Service. Frost is a registered dietician.