The farm to table movement is all the rage these days, but all that freshness comes with a hefty price tag. A locally-grown salad at your local restaurant might cost twice as much as the shipped variety, and the price tag on that farm-raised grass-fed steak could be even higher.
That might be discouraging but you do not have to let your limited budget get in the way of your quest for fresh local food. The freshest produce and great locally-grown meats could be as close as your local farmers market. The key is knowing how to strike the best bargain and find the best providers.
Use the Quest for Freshness to Your Advantage
The local farmers market is all about freshness, and you can use that to your advantage. Farmers from around the area strive to provide the freshest possible fruits and vegetables, picking them at the peak of freshness and rushing them to market. That means the shelf life of their local produce may be somewhat limited, and you can use that fact to strike a better bargain.
When shopping at your favorite stand, ask the farmers if they have any riper fruit on hand. From peaches bursting with flavor to bananas that are slightly past their prime, you can get some great fresh produce. Since the farmers know that this almost too-ripe fruit will not be good for much longer, they may be willing to negotiate a lower price.
Show Up at Closing Time
If you want some even better bargains, consider showing up just as the market is closing up for the day. Local producers are often reluctant to pack up their unsold produce, especially if it will be too ripe by the next market day. You can strike some great bargains this way and get some great fruits and vegetables for your family.
You may need to attend the farmers market for a few weeks to get a feel for how things work and when the various vendors start to pack up their wares and head back to the farm. Most farmers markets have set hours, but some stands will invariably call it a day before others. Showing up right as your favorite farmer is bringing out the boxes can give you extra bargaining power.
Get to Know Your Local Farmers
Do not be afraid to talk to the farmers you see at the local farmers market. The vendors at most markets are anxious to talk about their farms, their produce and their animals. Getting to know the local farmers and raisers of livestock can also be a great way to get a better deal on everything from a head of lettuce to a side of beef.
Many farmers market vendors also sell directly from their farms, often at prices that are lower than those at their stands. The lower overhead of direct sales allows them to sell at a lower price and still make a profit.
This strategy works particularly well if you are in the market for a freezer full of meat. You may be able to strike a deal with the farmer to buy a quarter or half side of beef at a time, keeping your freezer full without emptying your wallet.
Farmers markets have been growing in popularity, no doubt riding the wave of local food enthusiasts. Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, and the local farmers market gives them the opportunity to trace their meals from the field to the table. For those who know how to shop, attending the local farmers market can also be a money-giving activity, with fresh local produce and great meats and cheeses available for less than the grocery store.