On June 21, we enter the summer solstice, and along with summer comes all kinds of wonderful, fresh produce! While nothing beats food that you plant, nurture and harvest yourself, the plethora of buying options this time of year truly makes for a healthy food nirvana. Farmer’s market produce is renowned for being locally-grown and the freshest available. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned farmer’s market shopper, here are a few pointers to help you get the most for your time and money.

Plan ahead. Think about how many meals you’ll be preparing in the coming week, and buy your produce accordingly. Avoid bringing home more than you need—it’s not a bargain if you end up throwing away or composting what you buy.

Waste not. Don’t throw about-to-go-bad food away. When fruits or vegetables look like they won’t get eaten in time, dehydrate them thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Dried fruits can be used in trail mix, while your dehydrated vegetables can garnish a salad or be used in a soup.

Be an early bird. The best vendors are usually also the most popular, and they can run out of things quickly. Arrive at the market soon after it opens for the best selection.

Be a night owl. If you’re not the early bird type, know that shortly before the market is about to close, the farmers will often give drastic reductions. They may be willing to sell their produce at a discount just to avoid having to haul it away.

Establish relationships. Get to know the farmers and vendors who work the stands from which you purchase. Tell them what your produce needs are, and consider bringing them a sample of something you’ve made with an item they’ve grown. Share your recipes. Such gestures go a long way in making the food cycle complete!

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask growers for tips on food preparation and storage. You can adapt any suggestions you receive to your own tastes and use the ideas of others as inspiration.

Understand terminology. Many people believe that organic produce is preferable because it is grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Sometimes growers who call their growing methods “chemical-free” actually do adhere to organic practices, but simply lack the resources to become certified. Learn to appreciate the differences between growing methods, as well as the meaning of terms like “sustainable” and “biodynamic,” and buy based on what resonates with you.

Money talks. Bring cash; some vendors are not able to take credit cards or checks. Small bills are appreciated, and your shopping time will more efficient if you don’t have to wait for change or for a credit card to run.

Speaking the language

While the farmer’s market is a lot of fun, navigating streets and stalls filled with produce can be overwhelming if you’re new or unprepared. It helps to know the language while browsing the market. Learn these terms and soon you’ll be chatting like a pro!

  • Certified Organic: Farmers can sell and label their products as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic. 
  • Organic: Farmers must follow approved methods of production. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, irradiation and genetic engineering are not used in organic farming.
  • Transitional: Farmers need to maintain organic methods for three years before their products can be certified.
  • Heirloom: Produce is developed through years of cultivation and seed saving. These varieties are usually genetically diverse.