A Farmers Market Bounty Won’t Break the Bank

By Katie Lazor, marketing manager, Boulder County Farmers Markets

Regulars at the farmers market tell us the unique values of their experience include connecting face-to-face with local producers. They enjoy access to the freshest ingredients available, availability of heirloom and heritage varieties of fruits, vegetables and meat, and contributing to our local economy.

But most of us don’t have unlimited funds. There are ways for all of us to incorporate farmers market shopping into our budgets, and to have fun doing it. With a small amount of planning ahead and staying in the loop with the local harvest, you’ll be on your way to an affordable shopping experience at the market.

1. Set a weekly grocery budget.
Your farmers market budget should be a subset of your grocery budget (unless you’re grabbing lunch at the market, in which case you’d direct that toward your Restaurant/Entertainment budget). For example, my weekly food and drink budget is $75, and $30 is set aside for market shopping. Be diligent with the budget you set, but also remember to allow yourself to make bulk purchases that can last multiple weeks (example: a box of peach seconds that you can eat fresh, freeze, or jam). Keep in mind, if you receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program coupons (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), you can double your market dollars at the Information Booth. Mint.com can be a great budgeting tool.

2. Make a list.
Stay in the local loop, and your list-making will become easier, and dare we say, fun. Subscribe to the Boulder County Farmers Markets weekly newsletter on bcfm.org, which will include a list of what’s in season. Tip: Buying in peak season when there is more volume of a specific crop, like tomatoes in August, will likely be less expensive. My grocery list this week: summer squash (a few for $5), loaf of bread ($5), sweet corn (3 ears for $2), peaches (a small bag for $6), eggs (a dozen for $6), and bag of mixed greens ($5).

3. Arrive early.
If you’re one of the thousands who visit between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you’re missing out on a sacred time at the market: 8 a.m. Not only is it less crowded and more peaceful, but you will have access to “seconds,” fruit that isn’t quite perfect from farmer standards, but is still fresh and delicious— and less expensive than its camera-ready counterparts. Another beauty of arriving early is having more access to farmers, to ask questions about vegetables you’ve never heard of, and to get to know them better.

4. Do a preliminary walk-through.
You might pull into the market at 8 a.m. ready to start filling your bag with the first delicious items you find. You’re much better off taking a lap through the aisles, browsing what is available and pricing different fruits and vegetables.

5. Make your purchases.
After you do a walk-through, consult your list and enjoy making intentional, calculated purchases (with a tiny bit of wiggle-room for those have-to-have items like raspberries or artichokes).

6. Store fresh food like a champ.
Our food waste is not only an environmental concern, but a financial one as well. By learning to store your fresh ingredients in the best way possible, you can extend the life of your purchases and save money. TheKitchn.com is a great resource for learning tried-and-true storage techniques.

Have any expert tips for shopping the market on a budget? Share your thoughts with us by emailing [email protected]