There’s a small but charming farmers market that’s held just minutes from my house each weekend. Lately, it’s been my prime source for leaf lettuce and hot peppers. If you think local markets have to be expensive, think again. Savvy shoppers can learn how to get the best deals at the produce market.
Become Familiar with Seasonality
Thanks to the basic principles of supply and demand, goods are cheapest when they’re in season. The height of the season is the very best time to buy. During the very beginning or very end of an item’s season, prices may be higher since availability is lower.
Besides, if your market vendors sell local goods, truly out-of-season produce should be a rarity. Finding items that should have passed their prime months ago is a sign that they are actually being shipped in from elsewhere.
This tip goes for both markets and individual stands. If you have more than one market in your area, scope out which one has the best prices. Visiting a few different markets is one way to find out; another is to ask around among locals.
Even at a particular farmers market, you may find that the prices on similar goods can vary widely from stand to stand. Before making any purchases, take a trip around the whole market. Figure out which types of produce you most want to spend your money on, and then compare which stands offer the best prices on those items.
Buy a Bunch from One Seller
As a general rule, most farmers market sellers don’t encourage shoppers to try to talk down their prices. They set the prices at which they can afford to sell their goods and don’t have a lot of room for negotiation.
The common exception to the rule? If you buy a large amount from one seller, you may have a better chance of scoring a deal. Whether you’re buying a large selection of the vendor’s tomatoes or a sampling of many of that vendor’s goods, he or she might be willing to offer a small discount to go along with that big purchase.
Have the Change that the Vendors Need
Even a well-prepared seller may run low on one-dollar bills or quarters long before the sale day ends. Therefore, if you come armed and with these much-needed types of cash, you may be able to score a bargain.
A vendor who needs small bills may be more satisfied with accepting just nine one-dollar bills for your $10 purchase than with receiving one 10-dollar bill instead. And a seller in need of quarters may be happy to hand over a couple of small items if it means that you’ll add to his collection of coins.
Settle for Second-rate Goods
Not every fruit and veggie that a farmer harvests is pristine, but some customers want only the best-looking items. If you’re willing to settle for produce that has dents, bruises or weird bumps, the vendor may let them go for a lower price than normal.
You may have to cut spots off of your purchases when you get them home, but it can be worth the extra effort if you save enough money on the wares. Such fruits and vegetables can be especially good for canning.
Brave the Rain
The farmers market has many fair-weather friends. When it’s wet, hot or cold outside, a lot of potential customers stay home. If you go to the market anyway, you’ll enjoy a much less crowded shopping experience than on a pleasant day.
Fewer crowds mean that it’s easier to identify and compare prices before you purchase. It also provides a better opportunity to get recommendations from vendors about their wares; perhaps you’ll learn a recipe for a low-cost vegetable that you’ve never tried before. It is also possible that vendors will reduce their prices in response to lower demand on a poor-weather day.
Go at the End of the Day
Some vendors are eager to clear their goods out before the market ends for the day. Therefore, if you shop toward the close of the market, you may find that prices have been reduced.
It’s possible that your farmer’s market frowns on last-minute deals, but it doesn’t hurt to show up near the end to see if you spot any sale signs. Just keep in mind that the remaining selection may be rather picked over.
Join the Team
Some farmers markets, particularly larger ones, need help with various tasks, such as setup and teardown. It takes a team to make each market happen. See if you can volunteer to help with these efforts.
As a thank-you, you may find yourself blessed with free produce now and then. It’s not a guarantee, and you shouldn’t expect it, but it sure is nice when it happens.
Plus, it’s a good way to get to know some of the market’s vendors. Favorite customers may find bonuses in their shopping bags from time to time.
Are you a farmers market bargain shopper? I love to scope out the best deals at my market. How do you save money on produce purchases? Leave your advice for farmers market shopping in the comments. As always, please share this piece on your social media pages.