3 Truths and 1 Lie About The Farmers Market

The farmers market is not a grocery store. A grocery store is a brick-and-mortar retailer who gathers global products that will sell to the largest number of people. If it doesn’t sell, it loses its shelf space.

The grocery store has one truth, it’s convenient. However, it also brings many lies.
How many times have you heard of products making health claims that are then removed because of a court order? Are the “natural” eggs from anti-biotic fed chickens your definition of natural? The grocery store is more advertising than advocacy.

But, your local farmers market is most often telling the truth. You can ask the guy that picked the tomatoes, chose the eggs, or raised the cow. He’ll tell you more about your food than the mega-mart employee, setting on your way to cook fresh foods.

There are three main truths you should bring to your mind for farmers market shopping success, but also be aware of the one lie that is already in your head.

Truth Number 1: You Need A Flexible Palate To Shop At The Farmers Market

You won’t be able to get everything all the time from local farmers. You may not be able to get some things at all, but that’s okay. The truth is that you should approach your visit with an open mind and an open palate.

With a little awareness, you can recognize which items are the freshest, which are in season, and which will yield the most food enjoyment. This is a dramatic change of thought for many people who buy ingredients for a recipe rather than creating a recipe from the ingredients available.

You have to pay attention to the season to get the most benefits from your local market. If your broccoli has a band reading “Mexico” and it’s October, that’s not the freshest product. But, when you anticipate blueberry season and enjoy them fully for 6 weeks, you don’t eat blueberries for the rest of the year. There’s something else to discover just coming into season. When you shop seasonally, you’ll really know how to save on food. http://www.howtosaveonfood.com

Please don’t confuse “organic” with local. Produce that is labeled organic has followed certain guidelines AND had the resources to file with the USDA. Many of your local farmers follow the exact same rules, without searching for loopholes, but don’t go through the arduous process of securing the label.

Truth Number 2: You Need To Spend Cash

Your local farmers are small business owners. They work very hard to provide wholesome food and should be rewarded for these efforts. Using a credit card at the farmers market gives a mega-bank 3 percent of the farmer’s money. Most market purchases are under 10 dollars anyway. Please don’t be the person who uses plastic to buy 3 apples.

The advantage of using cash to you is that it makes you more aware of your purchases. Farmer’s market ingredients are not waxed, gassed, or preserved like the grocery store so they will spoil more quickly. When spending cash, you’ll be limited to buy only what you will cook within the week. There’s no reason to stock up on farmer’s market foods. Next week’s purchase is still in the ground and will be even fresher in 7 days.

Spending cash also helps you with your food budget because it’s so easy to throw additional items into a shopping cart when you flash plastic through the check out line. With cash, you may have to make decisions between which items to buy. That’s an advantage because only so many items will fit within the weekly meal plan anyway.

Truth Number 3: You Need To Learn How To Cook

I speak with people all the time that want to take advantage of the benefits the farmers market offers, but they don’t know how to cook many of the ingredients there. Without confidence, they search recipes. Recipes call for specific ingredients, and that negates the need for the farmers market, as I said before. It’s a vicious cycle.

You don’t need to be a chef to learn to cook with the freshest ingredients. As a matter of fact, it’s easier to cook fresh food than packaged foods. When you concentrate on the basic methods of cooking, then you’ll realize it doesn’t matter WHAT you’re cooking when you know HOW to cook it correctly.

To take advantage of this great local food, there are three skills you’ll need in the kitchen. First, knife skills are important because your ingredients won’t come already cut up for you. Second, be able to replicate ONE basic cooking method like grilling, sauté, or roasting. If you can consistently sauté something well, it doesn’t matter if it’s chicken, beef, or vegetables. Third, know how to make sauces. A good sauce can improve the flavor, texture and appearance of any cooked item.

The Big Lie: The Farmers Market Is Too Expensive

Please stop saying that the farmers market is too expensive. It’s just not true. I think this myth was started by people who shopped there once, on a dare. Having spent their lives ignoring prices at the grocery store, they go local and for the first time scrutinize prices. “One pepper for a dollar-fifty?” they say, having paid even more by the POUND at the grocery store last week. They haven’t been paying attention.

The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you consider overall value.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you want to help your community.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you care about the earth.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you know the source of your food.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you know what is IN your food
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you eat only local and stop snacking.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you spend money on less important things.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you get the value of shopping with family.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you teach your children about good food.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when they treat the animals well.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when workers are paid a fair wage.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you compare to take out food.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you buy only what you’ll eat.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you care about your health.
The farmers market is NOT more expensive when you shop there SMART.

Now, it’s your turn. Please leave a comment below and finish this sentence:
“The farmers market is NOT more expensive when…..”

About Chef Todd

Chef Todd Mohr is a Certified Culinary Educator who has empowered home cooks all over the world with the reliable, dependable, repeatable METHODS behind cooking that build confidence, generate creativity and enable anyone to cook with the ingredients THEY desire.


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  • AngieG9
    11:40 PM - 12 May, 2014

    When you can learn to preserve and freeze extra produce for the fresh food taste at Christmas. Just think about having fried green tomatoes during the winter months when they are nowhere to be found. If you freeze some, individually, you can pull out a few slices and enjoy them all winter. The same goes with tomatoes. Want some sauce in the winter? Pull out a package of frozen tomatoes and you have the fresh taste for a delicious tomato sauce. Corn? It can't be beat. On or off the cob, it can be frozen, and when cooked later it still has that just picked taste. I'm a life long country girl, and grew up with huge gardens, learning as a child to can or freeze the extra produce to feed the family through the winter, until the spring and summer brought us the new fresh veggies.

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:10 PM - 13 May, 2014

      Hey Angie!
      Bravo! Well said! Freezing is a good alternative for many things. You can also dry herbs, fruit, even meat (jerky). For highly acidic products, you can hot water jar things as well. I like to store the summer tomatoes in jars after seeding and skinning them ("tomato concassee").

      Here's how I use fresh strawberries to make jam for the Holidays

  • Chris
    7:57 AM - 12 May, 2014

    ...when you remember that "to every thing there is a season". In-season, local produce just tastes better than say, blueberries grown in another hemisphere. It's a life lesson, appreciate what you have while you have it. Make the most of every second, or in this case, every crop.

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      2:59 PM - 12 May, 2014

      Hi Chris!
      "turn, turn, turn" (to everything there is a season). I like your philosophy!

  • Jason
    11:11 PM - 9 May, 2014

    All I can say is amen to that! There is no doubt in my mind that this straight forward & very well written article will more than convince those out there who are riding the fence and/or are still skeptical about shopping at your local farmer's markets to actually check it out. This article not only drove several valid points home but it separates fact from fiction. My hat goes off to the author for being direct and open about this issue that goes on in most of our communities. Let's shake the fence and educate each other on the truth's of farmer's markets vs corporate America. It's time to pick a side people!

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:39 PM - 11 May, 2014

      Hey Jason!
      YES! Let's shake those fences! Thank you for the kind comment.

  • Carol
    10:00 PM - 7 May, 2014

    Here's one for Small towns; "The Farmer's Market is NOT more expensive when you consider that These are your Neighbors, your kid's Friends and Families, and the MAIN INCOME for a small portion of the Community." I'm sure it's not as important in say, Chicago, but here, where I Cook for the Community Head Start Preschool - and I KNOW these people - IT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE! (Not to mention, I LOVE FRESH Veggies, Eggs, and Homemade Goodies!)

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      3:41 PM - 8 May, 2014

      Hey Carol!
      Treatment of animals is an important aspect of shopping at the farmers market, but so is treatment of HUMANS! Thank you for a thoughtful comment.

  • Michael
    6:55 AM - 3 May, 2014

    I live in Prague, CZ, where we are fortunate to have a nearby Farmer's Market three days per week and not too far the other days. I shop their regularly and do find good value when I look for it.
    However, it is not automatic. I believe the local farmer has to be competitive; only charge higher prices than the supermarket when he offers superior products.
    At first read I thought your list in the last paragraph was over the top, including factors that are not directly related to a Farmer's Market or are related to any food market, but then you concluded with the one that counts: Shop Smart.

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:36 PM - 5 May, 2014

      Hi Michael!
      Thank you for Czech-ing in from Prague! (sorry, bad pun)
      Ultimately, no matter what you purchase, you are responsible for making the educated decision that's right for you. I don't mean to say that just because it comes from the farmers market, it's automatically better in every way. It's certainly not as convenient, doesn't have the variety of a grocery, and can sometimes have the same if not worse items than the supermarket. Buyer beware!

  • Jackie
    11:33 PM - 1 May, 2014

    Unfortunately, most of the "farmers" at our farmers market sell the same boxed produce as the grocery store!!

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:34 PM - 2 May, 2014

      Hi Jackie!
      Yes, I've seen vendors with "grocery store" items from Mexico and California. If you're fortunate enough to have a Winter market like we have in Baltimore, I don't expect people to be growing anything in December and January. However, they still have to feed their families so they "import" items for sale. When this is the situation, I still support my local farmers even if they didn't grow it. Sometimes, I'll find hydroponic or hot-house local veggies in winter, but that's rare.

      It's also possible that they've lost part of their crop during the season. If there's a heavy rain, extended heat, or any other Mother Nature event that ruins part of their inventory, they may include products that are not local. I still support my local farmer through his hard work and loss.

      The last possibility is that the vendor is not a farmer, has no association with the food and is just there to sell food from anywhere during the season. With other local and fresh alternatives at the same time, I'll choose a farmer over a vendor.

      Ultimately, it's up to you to make the choices that are right for YOU. I'm not here to preach or insist. I just share information and tell you what I do.
      Find the vendors who aren't selling boxed produce and support them. They'll have more money to grow more food, and then offer you better food to buy.

  • Robin Hamre
    9:35 PM - 1 May, 2014

    Dear Chef,
    You speak the truth, the same truth my two grandmothers and grandfathers taught many years ago. The grandmothers were from Calabria and Sicily. The food was from the garden, when it could be, and from the family fruit and vegetable trucks that drove down the alleys in Chicago, when they had to purchase from the main market in Chicago (the maternal grandfather's family business)
    Thanks for the video.
    A fan who shops at Farmer's Markets

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:35 PM - 2 May, 2014

      Hi Robin!
      Ohhh, I sometimes wish I had an Italian Grandmother from Sicily or Calabria. I can only imagine the impact she made on the rest of your life.

  • Wayne
    11:03 AM - 1 May, 2014

    You want the freshest ingredients to prepare the healthest foods at home, knowing you have made a great decision to buy from your local farmer's market, and your local farmers.

    • Chef Todd Mohr
      1:22 PM - 1 May, 2014

      Like they say Wayne, "garbage in, garbage out". The best meals are made with the best foods. Thanks for the comment.

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