On choosing a farmer’s market

To market, to market!

It’s that time of year again — summer farmer’s market season. While we in Indianapolis are abundantly blessed with a wonderful Winter Farmer’s Market that gives us access to local food from November through April, many towns only have them in the summer season. Our warm-weather markets will be starting up next weekend (we had a single weekend past with none, and I began showing withdrawal symptoms by mid-afternoon Saturday). It seemed a good time for a post to get everyone ready for fresh, local produce shopping.

But not everyone wants the same thing out of a farmer’s market, right? And some cities have lots of markets to choose from while others have just one option. I’ve caricatured a few different types of shoppers below, with tips on finding the best market to suit each of their needs.

  • Just looking to support something local rather than a big box store, plan to visit occasionally.
    If this is you, then you might just want to hit up the market closest to you. Make a walk or bike ride a part of the trip, and you’re getting your exercise at the same time you shop. It’s a win-win. Take a good walk through the whole market, making notes of prices before you buy — that way you’re sure to get the best deal from your very first visit. Make friends with your favorite farmer, and she might hold a quantity of hot-ticket items on a day you know you’ll be behind the crowds.
  • Wanting to try and get most of your produce at the market, eat more seasonally, and transition away from the grocery store as much as possible.
    You’re gonna really want to get to know your market options. Start first with one closest to you, but if it’s not large or diverse enough you might want to try others around town as well. The bigger the market, the bigger the price competition and potential diversity of offerings. You might even consider shopping at more than one market to get the best items (I shop at two markets every Saturday!)
  • Concerned with buying local, but also prioritizing organic and/or sustainably-farmed.
    This is where you need to be prepared to research all market options, and ask lots of questions of the vendors. Some farmer’s markets have across-the-board standards for vendors (our market in Georgia required all produce sold to be sustainably-farmed, so we knew that anything we bought was going to be chemical-free). Some only require that produce be produced within a local radius, and others still have no requirements at all. So you’ll want to pay attention to signs that say “chemical-free” or “sustainably-farmed,” and don’t be afraid to ask questions on top of that (many vendors will not be “certified organic” even though they are growing food organically — this is simply because certification is a time-consuming and expensive label to garner).

One thing that many people don’t realize is that some markets pretty much let anyone sell anything — a vendor could go buy produce anywhere, and sell it as their own. They’re not necessarily being dishonest — they’re just not advertising that they didn’t actually grow the food. And in most cases, their produce is sold at the same price as the farmer a few booths down who grew everything himself and did so without using chemical pesticides. It definitely pays to ask questions of your farmers — and the best ones are more than happy to talk about their growing practices (they usually have signs advertising those practices as well).

If you live in Indianapolis, you can look here for a comprehensive list of options. If elsewhere, you can give farmersmarket.com a try, though I believe they can only show locations that have registered on their site.

But the most important thing is to enjoy getting out of the house on a Saturday morning, shopping outside, and supporting something local. Most markets open around 8 am so you can beat the heat in the heart of summer — and the vibe is always much better than the produce section of your local Kroger. Grab a cup of coffee, put on a hat, and make it a regular part of your weekend.

5 thoughts on “On choosing a farmer’s market

  1. I LOVE the farmer’s market , I go for locally grown 1st. You do have to watch and make sure they are really grown in the area – I laugh when I see the sign for some of the farms being from SC or NC and they have bananas – those just are not locally grown.

  2. I hit up the Broad Ripple market yesterday, but didn’t buy anything save a tiny bottle of apple cider. It looked so good and you can usually only get it in the fall, so I succumbed to weakness and bought it. We were going to be out most of the day (it was my birthday) so I didn’t want anything to have to sit in the car. It might be a tad too early for the really good veggies, but I did see a bunch of beautiful flowers! I might try the Binford Market because I’ve heard good things, but there’s also the Carmel market which is right up the street from my house. And I don’t know where our egg guy goes! I thought he would be at Broad Ripple, but I didn’t see him!

    1. Katie, I hit up BRFM yesterday too — I was pretty late (it was HOT, and a lot of the vendors were well picked-over). I left with some local meat, eggs and radishes. My two favorite egg farmers both sell at Binford in the summer season — Simpson and Homestead Heritage (their chickens eat organic, non-GMO feed, as opposed to most other free-range local chickens — they were both at IWFM this winter).

      I think my favorite produce vendor is at the Carmel market during summers — Mulberry Creek Farm (?), it’s an Amish (or Mennonite?) farmer who is certified organic but has amazing prices. Look for him if you head that way!

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