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The Brown Bag is certainly an advocate of farmer’s markets everywhere.  We think they’re a great way to get fresh fruits and veggies while also being a responsible citizen of your planet.  When you shop at your local farmer’s market, you’re doing what’s best for you, your community and your planet.  Farmer’s markets are more likely to have fruits and veggies that have been picked at their peak of ripeness than your average grocery store, and produce picked at its ripeness magic moment have more vitamins and nutrients than produce picked early so that it will keep well until it can make it to your grocery store shelves—so, you’re getting more nutritional bang for your buck at the farmer’s market than you would at your local grocery.

What’s more?  When you shop at farmer’s markets, you’re supporting the farms in your local community and making sure that your community continues to have access to fresh, local produce.  You’re reducing your carbon foot print because those fruits and veggies that you’re taking home didn’t have to be flown in from Peru, they were simply trucked a few miles down the road and right to you.  You’ll be eating seasonally, which scientists say is healthier for humans, as well as being healthier for the environment as a whole (think carbon footprint again).  Have we convinced you yet?

All of this being said, we understand that sometimes trying something new can be a little bit stressful.  Maybe you’re thinking, “I went to the farmer’s market once and I didn’t know what half the stuff was!” or “How do I know what’s organic and what’s not?”  Our answer: Ask questions.  Eating seasonally means that sometimes you’ll be trying things you’ve never cooked or eaten before, and you may be thinking, “I don’t even know where to start with kale!”  Not to worry!  The people selling at the markets do know what to do with their produce; so, if you’re confused or wary, ask them for suggestions.  Very often, farmers will have a recipe or two printed and available for customers to take home.  And if you’re wondering which fruits and veggies are organic but can’t find signs to indicate, just ask.  The farmers at markets have all the info you’ll need about the things they grow, and they’ll be more than happy to tell you about how they grow it.

A few other tips to shopping the market like a pro:

  1. Go early.  Late risers tend to get the produce that’s been picked over, so get up early and nap later.
  2. Take cash.  Most farmers will not have a credit card machine ready and waiting.  We know that many of you live and die by credit cards and never have cash, but make life easier for everyone and stop by the ATM before  you go to the market.
  3. Bring your own bag.  This is not a necessity, as most farmers will have plastic bags handy for your purchases, but if you’re looking to do your shopping for the week, you may need more room to carry things.  Also, bringing your bag saves resources and gives a hand up to the planet (and every hand counts!).
  4. Farmers markets aren’t all about produce.  They are some of the best places to discover local farms with sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.  Consider buying your eggs, milk, cheese and fish/meat here as well!
  5. Don’t haggle—you’re not at the flea market.  Farmers work hard–really hard–and a lot of the farmers you’ll meet at local markets are working hard to bring organic produce and other products to your community.  They’re innovative in their farming practices and often may incur more costs in their farming techniques than larger, commercial farms.  They need to make a living too.

Give your local farmer’s market a try, if you haven’t already.  We’re pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.  If you’re looking for a list of local DC-area markets, click here.