My wife is a vegetarian, I am not. I was raised on meat and potatoes, or any variation thereof. So when we got married and we actually filled our crispers… well, I was a little shocked. Even more than that, I was surprised at just how much “some produce” cost. It wasn’t that I never bought any fruits or vegetables, it is just that I liked saving money and would only ever buy a couple of the cheapest apples and maybe some baby carrots. Let’s just say it took me a little while to adjust to how a vegetarian eats as well as shops.
One of the tricks that my wife uses to get cheaper fruits and vegetables is to take advantage of the summertime farmers markets. There are a couple in our area, which my wife has visited, and while they have been good, they simply did not compare to the one that she found this last weekend. It was gigantic, with not only fruits and vegetables, but a couple of pig farmers, beef, chicken – even beer! Here’s a number of ways you can save money using your local farmer’s market.
First and foremost, a farmers market is the best and cheapest way to get organic food. You get guaranteed fresh fruit and vegetables, often grown organically, for a fraction of the cost that it would be sold at, say, Whole Foods. They can do this because there is simply less middlemen in between the growth of the product and your wallet. They grow it, you buy it from them. There is no shipping, delivery, or marketing departments getting in between your tomatoes and your fridge. Also, no tax – not on the produce, but also not on the meat, baked goods, canned salsa, and so on. Why organic? Organic, in season food has been proven to have the greatest health benefits, and that is something that is priceless.
Secondly, like garage sales, this type of shopping allows for respectful bargaining. You obviously don’t want to offend the farmer by low balling them with ridiculous offers, but if you are planning on purchasing a large quantity of their product, there is no harm in asking for a discount, especially if you go at the end of the day and pick up whatever the farmer has left over. Be fair to the farmer, and they will be fair to you. Another option is to become a regular at the farmers market. This way, you have the option of engaging in a relationship with the farmer, allowing for the potential of special deals, or at least a heads up as to what is coming and going from week to week.
A farmers market forces you to use cash, which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s already pretty well documented that there is a better mind and money connection when you spend cash, as opposed to using plastic which can feel distant and detached. Some of you probably already use cash solely for this reason. Even if you don’t, you are going to have to for a farmers market. Please note, if you are the type of person (like me) who only ever uses a credit or debit card and relies upon bank statements more than receipts to keep track of your expenditures, going to a farmers market will be harder to keep track. If you want to track your expenses, bring a pad and pen to keep track of how much you are spending.
Another popular way of saving money on groceries is buying in bulk. Unfortunately, while this can save you money, it has always been hard to do so with produce because of its limited lifespan. At a farmers market, you can buy the quantity that you need, as opposed to buying seventeen tomatoes from Costco and having twelve of them go bad before you get to them. At a grocery store, you are often stuck with buying packages of produce, like a pound of apples, or a bag of carrots, not because that is the only option, but because it is the most economical. Not so at a farmers market, where you can simply get everything at the exact quantity that you want – including meat.
What if you don’t like what the vendor is selling, or if you are not sure? There’s actually less risk in the purchase, as most vendors will allow you to test and taste their wares before a sale. Want some homemade organic salsa, but aren’t sure you are going to like it? Ask for a sample. Most sellers are more than willing to let you have a taste of their goods, as they are hard workers who are proud of their product. You are much less likely to be stuck with a gallon of custard that has no use in your home if you have the chance to taste it first.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you are making a statement with your money when you purchase directly from a farmer. Your money goes to the farmer, not a corporation. Unfortunately, in many areas, especially in the United States, the farmers are at the mercy of the larger corporations (see: Monsanto). Buying straight from the farmer puts more money in their pocket, and keeps money in the local economy. Your money will speak louder than anything you will ever say out loud, and by buying local, organic food that avoids packaging and marketing and lawyers, you are saying that you want quality food for yourself, your children, and your community. There’s hardly a better way to spend money.