Your go-to shopping guide for spring's freshest produce. Don't forget your reusable tote! 

By Kelly Vaughan
Updated April 12, 2019

Birds are chirping and trees are blooming, which means that farmer’s market season is upon us. With so many vendors selling fresh produce, we're ready to brighten our fridge with spring fruits, vegetables, and herbs. However, it can sometimes be hard to navigate the market and know what’s worth buying. While farmer’s markets are a great opportunity to support local agricultural businesses and small food makers, they may come with a price. And that price often goes up even more when the greens are organically grown.

So, when is it worth shelling out the extra cash for locally-grown produce at the farmer's market, and when do you take it to the next level and opt for the organic version? And what does an organic label actually mean?

When to Buy Local vs. Organic Produce

In many towns, farmer’s markets only happen on the weekends, which means you may have to plan your meals in advance to know what to buy and avoid waste. Produce that's being sold at a farmer’s market or farm stand is often picked locally within a day or two of when it’s being sold, which means you’re getting fresher fruits and veggies than you would at a grocery store. Farmer’s markets are best for picking up a local-grown ingredient you’ll be cooking with immediately, as the flavor will be particularly pronounced, or trying out unusual produce that you can’t find anywhere else. The vendors will be experts on how to cook with their latest and greatest crops.

In terms of choosing between organic and non-organic, there are certain foods that are completely safe to buy non-organic (and will save you a few bucks to boot). If you’re on the fence about when to buy organic, look at the produce itself. Rule of thumb: produce that has an inedible peel like corn on the cob, squashes, onions, garlic, pineapple, and avocados does not need to be organic. The peel is what contains the most chemicals and if you’re going to toss it anyway, there’s no risk. If it doesn’t have a peel at all, like berries and leafy greens, or has a peel you’ll likely be eating such as apples and potatoes, then it’s worth it to spend a couple extra dollars to avoid consuming pesticides. Of course, buying organic, locally-grown foods is always a win-win.

Why You Should Buy Organic

The biggest reason for buying organic is the fact that your fruits and veggies will contain less synthetic pesticide residue than non-organic goods. The USDA is the only organization that can officially label food as organic, which means that products with that stamp have gone through a rigorous approval process. While organic products usually come with a higher price tag, organic farmers are also reducing their carbon footprint by relying on crop rotation and natural fertilizers rather than synthetic chemicals. Don’t ignore organic meat, either—whatever the animals eat will end up in your body. Fewer antibiotics and a grass-fed diet is more beneficial for both you and the animals.

Navigating the Farmer’s Market

The best part of shopping at farmer’s markets (aside from supporting local farmers) is that you will likely get to talk to the very people who grew, harvested, and produced the goods right in front of you. You can pick their brains about what’s been a strong crop and if there’s anything particularly new or special on the stand they’d like to highlight. Plus, vendors will often let you try a small sample of whatever you’re interested in.

Buying at a farmer’s market also means that you’re reducing your carbon footprint, because the produce doesn't have to be shipped to a third-party retailer. Stashing your fresh greens in a reusable bag cuts down on the use of plastic, too.