by Kate Copsey
Cheap Sources of Organic Food
Organic Food for Less
My Story: Finding Cheap and Free Produce
Over the last ten years, local farm markets have popped up in many urban and suburban towns. These open-air markets are full of lively vendors and farm fresh goodies of all descriptions. Best of all, the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables are generally much below the major supermarket chain prices.
Prices are lower because you are buying direct from the farmer. Transportation costs to bring the vegetables from the farm to the market are considerably less than flying it across state and national borders. Most farm markets have regulations regarding where the produce is grown. This in part is to stop the vendors from buying peaches that were grown in Florida and selling them in Cleveland before the local crop is ready. From a customer loyalty basis, this practice would be to the detriment of the local farmers, but it also raises the cost of the product. So the general rule is that all produce sold has to be grown in the state that the market is run or, in some cases, within 50 miles of the market. Depending on the market, the farmer must produce all, or most, of the produce himself on his property. Thus the market shopper gets locally-grown as well as low-priced produce.
Low transportation costs and short distances also means that the produce is picked at peak freshness and has not needed preservatives to stop it ripening en route. Overall, the produce then is generally of better quality than the supermarkets. This is particularly important if you plan on buying the vegetables to keep for several days.
Most local farmers are small, and although they are not all organic, most do not use as many pesticides and herbicides that larger commercial farmers do. However, certified organic farmers are common vendors at the farm markets. So, if you are particularly keen on organic produce, you will find a good selection at the markets.
Many of the larger market and large vendors also are approved for food stamp programs and will set their prices to make food stamp coupons and WIC farm market work well for the consumer.
So what can you find at farm markets? This obviously varies with the area and the market managers, but most will have at least one large fruit and vegetable vender. This is termed the anchor of the market and is essential to drawing people into the market itself. Other smaller vegetables and specialty vegetables will also be sold on a typical market. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers, a wide variety of salad greens, fresh cut herbs and numerous varieties of apples are common on many of the large markets. Fresh cut flowers and bouquets are also a common booth. Look for local specialties that will be produced in small quantities and are peculiar to your area. Fresh baked pies and breads may also be available in the market, again using the local fruits.
Do not expect though to have quite as large a selection of produce at the market. Local grown means no imports from afar to supply you with strawberries in September or peaches in April!
People attend farm markets as much for the atmosphere as for the produce. A local singing group or folk artist might be playing one week, and a competition for the best vegetable sculpture may take place another week. Chefs from local restaurants who support the farmers may demonstrate how to prepare and cook the local produce and will frequently give recipes for you to take home to try. Some of the smaller specialty vendors might also give you recipes to use their specific product.
A well-organized farm market will be active in advertising its location and dates in the local media. If you do not see any flyers, check with the local Chamber of Commerce and the County Extension Educator. Both will doubtless know about the markets in the region.
Most markets run on Saturday morning, with some running a midweek market and the occasional city market runs all week. Hours are bright and early, so plan to wake up promptly to get the best of the market. Some open as early as 7 a.m. The markets generally run until midday. You will not be able to buy produce before the start of the market, but a popular vendor may well have a line of people waiting before the bell goes off! The same applies at the end of the market. As no farmer wants to take back a truck of leftover peaches, you might be able to strike a special deal, if you do it before the final bell rings. This is particularly common if you are willing to take a large container of the item. So there are some benefits to arriving late to the market. If you are taking your children to the market, and want just a speedy go round, time your arrival about thirty minutes after the start of the market. This allows the first flush of early risers to shop, and before the late sleepers come by.
Look for markets to be starting up in late April or late May, depending on your location. A general guide would be when the strawberries are ready for market. Strawberries are one of the earliest commercially marketable items and thus a good starting time. Some markets may start earlier with plants and seedlings for sale along with baked goods.
So, try a farm market this summer. You will be glad that you made the effort, and the local farmers will be as well!
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