Plus the easiest way to pick what produce is at its peak.

By Betty Gold
Updated: July 08, 2019
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Summer’s in full swing, which can only mean one thing: farmer’s market season. Almost overnight, vendors’ stalls transform into a playground for produce-lovers, filled with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Rich-hued rhubarb, raspberries, those sweet little pint-sized strawberries, and peaches so ripe you can smell them a mile away.

Like a moth to a flame, it’s almost too easy to blow the bank by packing your tote bag full of everything in sight. Luckily, Sweetgreen’s Culinary Research and Development Chef, Katelyn Nolan Shannon, has a genius method for preventing the farmer’s market impulse purchase spree: Before you buy (or even think about buying) anything, do a quick lap around the entire market.

This tactic works for several reasons. First, you’ll get a good sense of what’s in season by walking through all the stalls—once you see that squash blossoms, asparagus, or apricots are being sold by nearly every vendor, you’ll know to stock up. In addition to peak flavor and texture, seasonal produce is more affordable.

“For the biggest bang for your buck, stick to produce that you see everywhere in the market. This indicates it's in season and will always be a better deal (and more delicious) than harder to grow items or out of season fruits and vegetables,” says Shannon. For example, you will get a much better deal on zucchini in the summer vs. a hard winter squash you may spot here and there in the market. 

The last reason it’s smart to cruise around before you buy is that you’ll be able to assess the quality at each stand. Ever buy a giant bag of so-so peaches only to see the farmer three stalls down has the most perfectly ripe stone fruits—and that they cost half the price that you paid? Never again.

Now that you’ve nailed the secret to saving big and finding the top-quality fruits and veggies, here are Shannon's other experts tips for tackling the farmer’s market like a pro.  

Go early

“The best stuff will sell out fast!” says Shannon. And don’t forget to come prepared with a big tote bag plus some reusable produce bags to haul your fresh farmer's market goodies home in.

Talk to the farmers

After all, they’re the experts! Farmer’s market venders have greatest info for how to best eat and prepare their fruits and veggies, and it can be helpful to ask them what produce is coming soon and what is wrapping up. It could unknowingly be your last week to get the season's cherries—that’s why it's good to know to buy while you can.

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Know how to find what’s ripe

Wondering the best way to tell? According to Shannon, your nose will be able to tell you the ripeness of produce. However, on harder to tell produce, there are a few tips and tricks she uses. Melons are heavy when ripe, stone fruits (i.e. peaches, apricots, etc.) will look plump, bright and are slightly soft to the touch. Berries are best sampled to taste for sweetness. And again, check with the farmers—they often bring varying levels with them so they can help their customers enjoy peak ripeness for when they plan to eat it. Tell them, "I'm planning on bringing a watermelon to a BBQ tomorrow, can you help me pick one out that will be ripe tomorrow?"

Pack your tote properly

While you're stocking up on all the fresh fruits and vegetables, it's important to be smart about how to pack your produce: sturdier veggies on the bottom, delicate fruits, leafy greens and herbs on top to avoid bruising and crushing. Less waste = more money (and food).

Don’t forget the flowers

“When we think of farmer’s markets, we often imagine food—but I always love to purchase fresh flowers at the stands,” says Shannon. “Your local market will often offer less expensive selections, and they tend to last a lot longer than standard bouquets from the grocery store!”

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