In my mind, any urban area that has nice sidewalks and streetlamps counts as “the city.” And don’t get me wrong, I am blessed with a quaint apartment in town. I love having the option to walk to the office, the coffee shop, or the grocery store around the corner, but I always find myself missing the country. I miss seeing the trees growing over dusty gravel roads and passing more tractors than traffic signs. I think about the quiet nights and friendly neighbors and the way you can actually smell the freshness of sunshine.
If you’re like most of us, you can’t feasibly quit the city life and move out to a farmhouse right now. But there are ways you can get a taste of country life without jumping all-in. One thing I love to do to get my “country fix” is by going to a local farmer’s market. If you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market, you’re truly missing out.
I’ve found that the state farmer’s market in Raleigh, N.C., is just large enough to be overwhelming, so before I go, I try to stick to one of three missions. I’m either shopping for crafts and baked goods, picking up fresh ingredients for a meal with a friend, or buying plants. I’ve found that setting a goal before going to the market keeps me from getting overwhelmed at all of the interesting booths and allows me to take my time in each section of the market throughout multiple trips.
As I said in my last post, it’s the ideal time to start a fall garden so this trip was strictly for plants, but I still took 20 minutes to stroll around the market. No matter what the mission, follow these rules for success at the farmer’s market:
Scout Around First: Some people think it’s better to go to the market early in the morning while others shop at the end of the day looking for bargains. Either way, you should walk around to see what produce and prices all the merchants have to offer. Some merchants may grow niche variety produce or have special offers depending on how many bundles or pounds you buy. I never spend any money until I’ve seen every stand — that way I can formulate a buying plan that combines the best prices with the most eye-catching items.
Be Friendly: One of the best parts of the market is the social atmosphere. Almost everyone there is having fun, so smile and say hi. Market merchants and other shoppers have tons of wonderful stories and information about their produce and knowledge that they’re happy to share with you. Don’t haggle with the vendors — save that for the garage sale scene — because market sales are a huge portion of their livelihood and you’re already getting great deals.
Bring Cash: I’m really careful when I take out cash, especially when I go to the market. Stay within the budget that works for you, but make sure you bring a little extra. You never know what kind of special finds or treats you may want to splurge on. Also, try your best to bring small bills. When you’re buying produce for $1 or $3 with a $20, you’ll drain the merchant of all their change.
Bring Bags/Boxes for Transport: I admit it, I have tons of plastic grocery bags stored up in the kitchen. Vendors will have bags available for you, but bringing your own plastic bag or a re-usable bag is even better; it is courteous and cuts down on waste. Also consider bringing small cardboard boxes to prevent produce from bruising or provide room for a potted plant. It also keeps dirt from getting all over the floorboards of your car on the way home.
Be flexible: My original plan was to plant snap-beans and dill, but after talking to a few of the vendors I found better options. One grower had some cucumber seedlings 4 for $2 and said they grow really well here in the late summer. Another told me that this summer was so hot that it was too early to start growing dill quite yet, so I decided to grow some rosemary instead. Both of the merchants had been growing plants and herbs in this area for a long time, and were happy to share their local knowledge, allowing me to benefit from their experience. Whether you are looking for cut flowers or produce, being flexible will help you get the best item because so many items are seasonal and what you saw one week might not be there the next.
I always feel refreshed and creative after spending time at the farmer’s market. Take a break from the rush this weekend and visit your local farmer’s market to see where it can take you. It’s a very different experience than the grocery store or big box store with a greater sense of community and gets you closer to the field and the farmer.
I found the perfect containers for my plants! Want to see how the garden turned out? Check in weekly for updates and articles with a survival twist on gardening, cooking, DIY skills, and more from Fresh Perpetual Stew.