It is farmers market time again and the BEST season to buy local foods.  This is just an update of last years post with a few new suggestions.  They are all really “no brainers” but may be helpful to first timers.

There is a skill to maneuvering through the tables, food stands, and carnival of color at your farmer’s market.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by the festive atmosphere and end up grabbing tons of homemade yet processed pies, cookies, and bread instead of fresh nutrient packed produce.    A common mistake I have made is to buy too much of everything.  And…once you get it home, you better eat while it is fresh!

Know what you want:  Have a short list or know what you are looking for so you don’t buy what you don’t need.  The vendors are great sales people for their products so it is very easy to impulse shop.  They will also offer a good deal if you buy more.  Not a good deal if you let it rot!

Money:  Many vendors take credit cards and scanners from your smart phone.  I like cash best.  It gets you in and out of the lines quickly.

Recycle:  Take some recycled grocery bags.  Maybe a big one to sling over your shoulder….Most food stands have plastic and need I say more?

Cold Packs:  If it is hot toss a few cold packs an insulated bag or cooler in your car.  This will keep your delicate foods fresh on the ride home.  Or if you need to stop, you can feel comfortable that your food will stay cool in the car.   You can also make several trips to the car, and leave the food there while you enjoy the fun of the market!

Walk Through:  Take a stroll through the entire market first so you don’t get overwhelmed and just start buying.  You can make a mental note on what you want and where.  Record or make a list on your smart phone or a piece of paper so you don’t overbuy.

Taste:  Always ask to taste, nuts, oils, and processed foods whenever possible.  If the labels do not reveal the ingredients ask.  You can also ask when the expiration is or when they were made.

Buy local and home grown:   You can ask the vendor if the produce is grown locally in the area. A good rule of thumb is to buy locally grown produce or at least grown within a 100 mile radius if at all possible.  The best is home grown from the neighborhood.  Always ask.  If it is local and home grown it is almost always fresh and ready to eat.

Examine the food:  Look the food over for bruises, brown spots or mold.  Sometimes when there are crowds of people waiting to pay you are in a rush to pick a basket of food like tomatoes, peaches, or strawberries.  The good ones could be on the top covering up some of the damaged goods…

Pick out your own stuff!  Which means you touch and pick out the foods you want to buy.  Many times vendors will put the good stuff in the front for display and bag up your stuff from a shelf or cart behind the table that is not a fresh.

Meats: If you eat meat….Look for grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free livestock; humanely treated animals, from a local source. Find out when you can get them fresh.  The day they have been butchered would be ideal.

Dairy and Eggs: Personally I love raw milk and fresh eggs although I do not drink milk often.  Ask when the milk was taken from the cows and the eggs were harvested to determine freshness…  If the milk is raw and unpasteurized it might be a little yellow from the butter fat.  The egg yolks should be bright yellow to almost orange inside.  When you get them home, boil a few.  When you peel it and cut it open it should not have any grey matter around the yolk!  Yuck.

Oils:  My favorite part of the market is the cool oils.  Make sure the packaging is airtight to protect the oils from rancidity.  My favorites are basil and garlic oils.  But there are lots of varieties.

Honey:  Local, unfiltered.  Many times the packaging will fool you and it might be labeled a name that is local but has actually just be packed there and come from someplace else.  I don’t want Dallas honey from Wisconsin!

Canned, Jarred, and Bottled goods:  Pickled garlic and okra, fancy chipotle barbeque sauces, fresh and gourmet Pico De Gallo, hot sauces, and the vinegars!  Last week I bought orange balsamic and pomegranate balsamic vinegars.  Ask the age (expiration) of the product (how fresh) and the air tightness of the bottle, jar or can.  Nut butters and jams rock too.  Picked up a pecan and pumpkin butter spread!

Dried Fruit, Vegetables and Meat:  Ask for a taste, how they are processed, when was it made,  and what are the ingredients….?  The less processed, fresher the product the better the quality.

Questions: The great thing about knowing the farmers, ranchers, and vendors that represent the food is you can ask any questions you want to. Where does the produce or other come from? Is it local?  Is it organic?  When was it harvested? Do you use pesticides?  Do you use biosolids on your crops or pasture for your grass fed livestock?  Do you use GMO seeds?  See the graphic that shows what organic means.

Lastly:  Ask for recipes!  Make a phone note of the vendors website.  They often have great info and recipes. Farmer’s and food people are the true Foodie’s of the planet!