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13 Ways to Get the Most Out of Farmers’ Markets Year-Round

Farmers’ markets can offer fresh, local produce and tasty artisanal fare. Here’s what you need to know before filling your basket with Canadian-grown goodness.

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Get to know the vendors at your local farmers' marketsPhoto: Shutterstock

1. Get to know the vendors at your local farmers’ markets

Not all farmers’ markets follow the same rules. Some are “producer only,” meaning they require vendors to grow or make the foods they offer; others allow suppliers to resell produce they buy elsewhere. To learn where your food is coming from, get to know your vendors, says Jay Howell of Brantview Apples & Cider in Saint George, Ont. “A lot of the growers are happy to promote their farms,” Howell says, “by offering farm visits or U-pick options.” Don’t miss these eight amazing apple-picking spots across Canada.

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Produce at farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

2. Don’t get hung up on perfection

Want to save money on food? Ask about “seconds,” produce that may be visually imperfect but can be purchased at farmers’ markets in bulk at a discount. It’s not always the prettiest, but it is still edible.

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Couple at farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

3. Schedule regular trips

Don’t give up if you can’t find the seconds you’re looking for right away. If vendors don’t have what you need one week, they may be able to bring it for you the next time around.

Feeling guilty with the leftover container staring at you? Try these ideas to use up every last bit of food.

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Wicker basket full of vegetablesPhoto: Shutterstock

4. Be open to alternatives

Buy into a community-shared agriculture (CSA) box. Monica Allaby and Amelia Peres of Montreal’s McGill Farmers’ Market say that CSAs are a great way to get reasonably priced produce, and many farmers’ markets offer the option.

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Fresh blueberriesPhoto: Shutterstock

5. Do your research

Don’t expect to find oranges in Saskatchewan in February. Research what grows locally and what’s in season before getting your hopes up. While you’re at it, check out these fresh foods you should never eat raw.

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Vendor at farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

6. Adjust your idea of value

Raymond Gourlay of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks in Parksville, B.C., says vendors at farmers’ markets might not offer you a lower price than No Frills, but they can provide a farmer-consumer relationship. “Share stories and give feedback,” Gourlay says. “That rapport is what the market offers that nowhere else does.”

Besides, you can still try these six brilliant money hacks that will slash your next grocery bill.

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Gourmet cheesePhoto: Shutterstock

7. There are lots of good deals to be found

You may find producers selling gourmet cheese directly at the market, allowing them to avoid retail markups and offer you a better price.

Watching your waistline? Here are six low-calorie options for cheese-lovers that are still delicious.

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Homemade jamsPhoto: Shutterstock

8. Take advantage of the variety

You might also try things at farmers’ markets that you’ll never see on store shelves. “Wholesalers need consistency, but we love experimenting,” says Gourlay. “The quirky, neat batches of cheese only go to the markets.”

If you’ve an adventurous palate, you should also check out the top 10 weirdest foods from around the world.

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Mother and son at farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

9. Don’t squeeze the fruits

There are better ways to test their ripeness. “Most people don’t know that if you squeeze an apple, 10 minutes later you’ll see fingerprints,” Howell says. Instead, ask if you can try a sample—most vendors will happily oblige.

If you can find them at the farmers’ market, these are the 12 foods that are worth buying organic.

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Farmers' market in the winterPhoto: Shutterstock

10. Stick with farmers’ markets in the winter

Many farmers use greenhouses, cold storage and other methods to make produce available all year. And besides, dairy products, meat, eggs and homemade breads never go out of season.

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Farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

11. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Unsure of what something is or how to cook it? Just ask. Talk to your grower about what’s available and how to prepare it.

Be on the lookout for these 10 vegetables—they’re the healthiest (and most delicious) you can add to your cart!

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Fresh produce at market stallPhoto: Shutterstock

12. Be a consistent customer

Once the staff recognizes you, they might start offering you samples or extra information about what’s in season that week.

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Smiling vendor at farmers' marketPhoto: Shutterstock

13. A trip to the market may get you a great story

Travis Forstbauer of Forstbauer Farm in Chilliwack, B.C., says his mother once sold a dozen small eggs to a return customer. “The eggs will get bigger as the season goes on,” Forstbauer’s mom said, educating the man about laying hens. Later, the customer returned. “I bought those eggs two weeks ago,” he said, “and they haven’t grown at all!”

Not all food is as fresh as you’d find at the farmers’ market, of course. In fact, here are 27 foods you should never ever buy again.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada