Summer Farmers' Market with purple onions, zucchini, and summer squash

Farmers’ Market Tips for the Best Produce

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Wondering what is best to buy at a farmers’ market this summer? Check out these seasonal vegetables, shopping tips, and cooking ideas to make the most of local foods!

As a child I remember stopping at farms in New Jersey en route to the shore for fresh Jersey tomatoes and blueberries. And they were both giant and bursting with flavor!

But growing up in a city, I don’t think I ever went to one until college. In a small nutrition class at Penn State, we checked out the fall harvest in State College and tried raspberry shrub. That’s a flavorful mix of the berries with sugar and vinegar, served with sparkling water.

Now that I live in Bucks County, there are a lot of nearby farms. I have even bought pumpkins and fresh preserves from neighbors in walking distance. And I have started to frequent some lovely farmers’ markets:

Wrightstown Farmers' Market with stands, canopies, and shoppers
Wrightstown Farmers’ Market

Benefits of Local, Seasonal Produce

It is wonderful to buy produce that was just picked. The foods are at their peak for flavor and nutrients. Some vitamins are diminished by exposure to air and light, so it is best to have produce that is quite fresh. If it is sitting around for some time in transit and a store, then frozen food may be more nutritious. Check out my top 10 ways to use frozen food in a plant-based diet.

Food from a farmers’ market has less “food miles”. This means a lower carbon footprint as the produce has not required as much energy to be transported to you.

In the summer and fall in the Mid-Atlantic region, there is a greater variety than you may be able to find at most supermarkets. At a recent trip saw garlic ramps, microgreens, and tried rainbow chard and oblong purple radishes.

When you buy directly from farmers, you can ask them questions and learn more about your food. I have learned that some use organic practices that go beyond the USDA requirements, but have not gone through the expense of becoming certified organic yet. Your direct support helps them to be successful and stay in your area. They may have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program you can join with pick-ups there too.


Also look for local farms that allow you to go and pick your own. A lot of farmers’ markets are only open one day a week: going to the farm may fit into your schedule better. It’s a great place to take kids. I suggest to check the weather and go early in the day if possible to avoid the worst of summer heat.

Is Shopping at a Farmers’ Market Less Expensive?

I compared some prices to those of other stores locally.

  • Blueberries: 1 pint was $4.00. That is a little higher than a supermarket sale in July. The flavor was better, however.
  • Large bag of organic salad greens: $3.50: comparable or less than discount / regular grocery stores. Very fresh and should last longer.
  • Large organic romanesco zucchini: $1: less than grocery / discount grocery stores: plus an unusual variety.
  • Large organic Asian eggplant: $2: comparable to a supermarket
  • Ear of corn: $0.65: slightly higher than supermarket, where they are $0.50. Flavor was very good, but kernels not as large as I would like. Perhaps it’s too early in the season.
  • Green bell pepper: $1: similar to supermarket / discount grocery stores.

So all in all I think the cost is quite similar to other stores. The food is higher quality and more fresh. Some stands may discount foods at the end of the time for the market.

You may find a lot of other things besides produce at a Farmers’ Market. I noticed fresh lemonade, artisanal bread, dog treats, wood fired pizzas, gluten-free vegan baked goodies. fresh nut butters, and handmade soaps. Prepared foods may cost a little more than typical supermarkets, but tend to be higher in quality. For example, the loaves of sourdough bread were $7.50 – $10.00.

And did I mention the flowers?

cherry tomatoes and flower bouquets
cherry tomatoes and flower bouquets

Here are some lovely bouquets. There were also a lot of cheery sunflowers there. At another local market, they sell plants: vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I like to buy portulacas there: they thrive on hot summer days and don’t need to be watered too often.

How to Find A Farmers’ Market Near Me?

Look in your local newspaper for updated listings.

You can also check this Local Food Directories site from the USDA. However, the top one listed for my zip code has not operated for several years so I suspect it is not updated frequently.

Be sure to check their website first (if they have one) for the day and hours.

Shopping Tips and What to Bring

  • Check online: your farmer’s market may have a web site with links to the vendors’ sites. Then you can check what they are currently harvesting.
  • Bring plenty of small bills, and many vendors accept credit cards too
  • Wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and maybe a hat
  • Bring reusable shopping bags and an ice pack
  • Plan to go early for the best selection and to avoid crowds.
  • Make a shopping list? Perhaps. I like to just be delighted and buy what looks unique and fresh.
  • Some allow dogs to visit, and others don’t: check beforehand.

What is in Season?

Today I found a huge variety. There were new potatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, beets, cabbage, carrots, chard, salad greens, sweet corn, mushrooms, summer squash, eggplant, blueberries, basil and other herbs, and fresh cut flowers.

I like this Seasonal Food Guide because you can enter your state and the month and see all of the food that are ripe at that time.

Here is a list of seasonal produce for Pennsylvania organized by the fruit or vegetable. While I see that many types of fruit are in season, all I found at the Farmers’ Market today were blueberries and ground cherries: maybe I needed to arrive earlier.

What I LOVE about visiting a Farmers’ market is finding unusual varieties of foods. Today I picked up an Asian eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, and this cool looking romanesco zucchini. I have Silver Queen sweet corn too.

blueberries, corn, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and salad greens
recent purchases from a farmers’ market

There were beautiful purple torpedo onions, tomatillos, poblano and shisito peppers. A mushroom farm stand had oyster mushrooms, which is supposed to have a meat-like texture, and also hen of the woods, shitake, and several other cool looking types.

What Can I do with Unusual Produce?

Here are some ideas for unusual summer produce you may find:

  • Tomatillos: use make salsa verde for bean enchiladas
  • Baby bok choy: delicious sauteed in a little olive oil with garlic, or try this stir fry recipe with baby bok choy and tofu
  • Ground cherries: I have never seen or heard of these before. Apparently, they are good for salsa and pies. read more in this article from the Smithsonian magazine.
  • Kohlrabi: can use for salads or roast them
  • Collard greens: cook with garlic, onions, olive oil, winter squash, and serve with whole-grain pasta: Easy Kabocha squash and collard greens with pasta.

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What is your favorite thing to buy at Farmers’ Markets? Let me know in the comments below.

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