Farmer’s markets are summertime staples, especially here in the Lowcountry. Between the sunny weather, fresh foods, and some good old-fashioned Southern gab, shopping the stands harkens back to a time when goods were bought and sold between friends and neighbors.
We love our Bluffton Farmers Market vendors here at The Cottage, but we get it: it’s easy to find yourself confused and flustered by the crowds and options at the farmer’s market. Is it okay to sample or to ask a lot of questions? Can you bring your dog? What’s the best time to go? Or maybe you just don’t go because it feels too exclusive. If you’ve been missing out on the market day because you’re not sure what to do or where to start once you get there, we’d like to change that. Here are seven insider tips for shopping at your local farmer’s markets.
Like Cher Horowitz said in the cult classic Clueless, “Let’s take a lap before we commit to a location.” And while she said this in reference to a high school party circa 1995, the advice applies to market day. Walk the whole market to scout that day’s options before doubling back to make your purchases. It gives you the chance to find the foods you really want before settling and might help you discover some little-known stands in the back.
Markets tend to be less crowded right when they open, so if you arrive early, you’re less likely to find yourself peering at a bunch of carrots over anyone’s shoulder. The most popular goods tend to sell out first, so if you know you want those morning buns or fresh berries, set your alarm and head straight for the stands.
While nothing beats the crisp lettuce, shiny heirloom tomatoes, and farm-fresh fruit you’ll find at the farmers market, don’t limit your list to produce. You can also get fresh eggs, homemade cheeses, local honey, and – eh hem – delicious baked goods at select stands. Just remember to bring extra bags (and maybe a buddy) to help you carry it all.
A common complaint we hear from produce vendors is that customers get too rough with their fruits. Don’t squeeze tomatoes, avocados, and fruit. If you’re not sure about how ripe something is, ask the farmer to help you. Questioning whether something’s fresh isn’t an insult, and it may help you learn something new about fresh foods.
While there’s been an uptick in the vendors using smartphone apps to process card payments, some only accept cash. Paying in small change is much easier than breaking down large bills, so stock your wallet with 5’s and 10’s in advance.
Travelers know that bargaining is appropriate – if not expected – at some markets, but farmer’s markets are not the place for negotiations. Shopping for quality is just as important as looking for the best deal.
Our favorite thing about market day is the chance to chat with our customers. Don’t be shy about asking vendors questions about their businesses, products, or pairing recommendations. We love getting to know our Cottage customers, and visitors to our farmer’s market stand are no exception.
Thursday is the only day of the week we like more than Friday.