Thursday, August 20, 2009

Farmers' Market Challenges

You know how I'm trying to shop locally as much as I can, visiting farmers' markets every week? Well, it can be a bit overwhelming elbowing my way through the crowded market, balancing boxes of tomatoes on top of the baby stroller, making quick purchasing decisions. I've made some mistakes, so I thought I'd pass on a few tips I've learned in case it's helpful to anyone:
  • Not all produce sold at a farmers' market is locally grown. Sure, some markets (in other cites, and I believe the Tejon market in the Springs) have regulations requiring all products to be locally grown and possibly organic, but every market I've been to in Colorado Springs has had no such rules. Most stands have a variety of produce with signs indicating whether it's "homegrown" or from Colorado (or a specific region, such as Pueblo or Rocky Ford). If the sign doesn't specifically indicate its origin, then you can bet it's from California or further. One exception is if the stand has a large sign showing the name and location of the farm, with the assumption that every item sold there is homegrown.
  • Don't be afraid to inspect the produce. Last week, I was excited to find Rocky Ford cantaloupes for $1 at one stand, while every other stand charged $1.50-$2. I paid a couple bucks and then went to choose my melons, only to find that every single one had soft spots; obviously, this was an assortment of "seconds". Many stands sell "seconds" for cheaper than perfect produce, but do not indicate why it is cheaper on their signs.
  • Along those same lines, don't assume that there will be any consistency from week to week. Last week, I bought a 20 pound box of the most beautiful tomatoes I've ever seen for $15. Well, I botched the tomato sauce I tried to make, so I went straight back to that stand today to buy another box. Today, I discovered after buying them that the tomatoes were not quite ripe and not nearly as perfect. They'll still work, but I may have shopped around more at the other stands if I had taken the time to inspect the tomatoes before paying. I was too chicken to try to return them, too.
Does anyone else have tips about finding good deals at farmers' markets? Or a favorite market in Colorado Springs? I would love to hear it.

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