Farmer’s Markets: How to Save Money Next Time You Go

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NEW YORK - APRIL 16:  Organic greens sit in bins at the Union Square farmers market April 16, 2005 in New York City. A growing group of shoppers are willing to spend more on their groceries in return for what they believe are healthier products. Some 27 percent of Americans ate more organic products in 2004 than they did in 2003, according to a survey conducted by the market research firm Synovate. More people have access to organic products with grocery retail chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's now carrying them.  (Photo by Monika Graff/Getty Images)

Given all the emphasis on healthy eating and sustainable agriculture, farmers' markets are a great way for the everyday consumer to develop a deeper connection to their food and food providers. In large cities, farmers' markets not only sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs, they also include food stands filled with homemade snacks, desserts, and cosmetic products.

In fact, these markets have become one of my favorite after-work and weekend excursions. Where else can you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the crowd, chat with the friendly vendors showing off their produce and wares, and munch on freshly-made empanadas, Korean barbeque, or hummus?

After heading to my local markets and shopping without a plan, I've realized that farmer's markets can be quite demanding on the wallet. Good food costs money, but it shouldn't make you broke. I've found four ways to help make farmers' market trips as budget-friendly as possible.

1. Make friends with your local farmer/vendor

Farmers and vendors who get to know you as a regular will be more likely to set aside choice items for you, slash off a few dollars for buying in bulk, or otherwise tip you off on what and when to buy so you get the biggest bang for your buck. Even striking up a friendly conversation may help: an ice cream maker I met sells his artisanal products for $10 a pint. Way above my price range, but he offered me so many tastes of different flavors that I got full just on those little spoonfuls of samples. Then I bought a pint for 1/2 off because it was missing two scoops (for samples).

2. Go at the end of the day

Many times vendors will offer discounts at the end of the day because they don't want to schlep the fruit or the produce back to their trucks. One farmer's market I'd go to closes at 7 pm. I usually just get half an hour before it closes. One day, I managed to leave work a little early and got there at 5 pm, and I realized that my favorite cherry vendor was selling the fruit for a whole dollar higher. When you buy five pounds of cherry at once like I do (because you are a cherry fanatic like I am), the difference in a dollar a pound adds up.

3. Buy the ugly-but-otherwise-delicious produce

Most people like pretty, unblemished fruit and will bypass the less attractive specimens. For this reason, sellers will often give you deals on unsightly (but otherwise unspoiled) fruit or produce. If you are going to make banana bread, then give those overripe bananas a second glance. Or, if you are making smoothies, maybe those bruised peaches aren't so bad after all.

4. Follow the farmer's recommendations / buy what's in season

Seasonal food is tastier and cheaper. That's why it's a good idea to buy watermelon in July and pumpkins in September. If you are not sure what is in season, just ask. Most sellers will gladly steer you toward their freshest options. If you are on a budget, let them know as well. By being open to different fruits and veggies, most farmers can help you maximize your funds.

5. Skip the premade food

Every farmers' market has a few stands with premade food. My farmers' market offers tamales, crepes, and even roasted lamb chops. But the prices of these items are just as expensive as those purchased at a restaurant. If you just stick to the uncooked ingredients, you should be able to leave the market with a fuller wallet.

What are your tips for saving money at farmers' markets?

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