Shopping for all of your fresh groceries at the local farmer's market can become expensive, fast—but do you really need to? Here's how to make the most of your market money.
Getty Images/Betsie van der Meer
| Credit: Getty Images/Betsie van der Meer

In an ideal world, we'd be able to spend all the time and money in the world perusing the local farmer's market multiple times per week and picking up all of the farm fresh ingredients we need to complete our homemade creations. But in reality, buying from the farmers market can end up being quite costly if you don't go in with a game plan.

While we're all for supporting small farms and businesses offering locally grown ingredients, the average family's grocery budget can't necessarily rely on slightly pricier local ingredients for every meal. However, using a few easy tips and tricks to determine which kinds of produce you should invest your farmer's market budget in can help you bolster local producers without taking a blow to your bank account.

Keep Longevity In Mind

Farmer's market shopping is all about getting the absolute freshest produce possible, so when it comes to picking and choosing what to stock up on, vegetables with a longer shelf life—like potatoes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, beets, and pumpkin—aren't an absolutely necessary farm stand purchase, as the quality will be comparable at the grocery store.

On the other hand, more perishable, of-the-moment produce will almost always be more nutritious and flavorful at the farm stand, and will likely contain less GMOs and chemicals than the grocery store selection. Seasonal ingredients like Heirloom tomatoes, berries, peaches, and watermelon will be at their very best when purchased straight from the farm that grew them.

Think Super-Seasonal

While you probably have a general sense of which fruits and vegetables are in season at different points of the year—like Brussels sprouts and squash in the winter, and stone fruits and tomatoes in the summer—most fruits and vegetables have a very specific peak time of year when they'll be at their absolute freshest. Do a little online research, or ask a farmer at the local market about the peak season for the fruits and vegetables you're interested in, and use that as a guide for which produce you should hone in on during your upcoming market trips.

Most of the produce sold at a farmer's market will be somewhat in-season, but beware of any fruits or vegetables being sold outside of their seasonal windows, as they may have been purchased from the same kind of distributor grocery stores rely on.

Splurge on Healthier Proteins

Though free-range eggs and grass-fed meats from local farms will undoubtedly be more expensive than the products you'll find at the grocery store, buying these ingredients locally can be a great investment in the flavor and healthfulness of your meals.

Often more ethically raised, these ingredients have also been proven to be more nutritious than their mass-market counterparts. Grass-fed meat is lower in fat and calories and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the grocery store alternative, while farm-fresh eggs are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats, and contain more vitamins D, E, and A. Even if you can't afford to purchase these ingredients every week, keep them in mind for special occasions, like family dinners or weekend brunches with friends.

Save Money at the Market

Once you've narrowed down which produce you're looking to snag from your local market, make sure to play the field once you arrive, tote bag in hand. Rather than jumping on the first fresh produce you see, do a scan of the entire market to find the vendor offering the best price point for the ingredients you're searching for. Keep note of the lowest prices you see for each product as you're making the rounds, and you are guaranteed to shave some serious bucks off of your total bill.

Another strategy for saving money at the market is to arrive later in the day. While the selection will have dwindled—and certain ingredients may be sold out—many farmers will cut their prices as they're nearing closing time in an attempt to sell out of the stock they hauled out that day. Though this move can be risky if there are certain ingredients you absolutely need for specific recipes, it's perfect for a casual, relatively plan-free shopping trip.

While keeping your grocery budget in check is important, at the end of the day doing a bulk of your shopping at the farmer's market is an amazing way to boost your local economy while guaranteeing you get the freshest, most nutritional ingredients possible. For more tips on making the most of your produce year-round, check out our ultimate guide.