If you shop at local farmer's markets, you probably know that fall produce tends to be fresher than the supermarket. But did you know that research shows it costs nearly 18 percent less, too? Here, experts, including Elyse Wood, operations and community manager for Boulder County Farmers Markets in Colorado, and Ben Feldman, interim executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, offer up tips to snag even bigger bargains at your local market.
1. Take a Stroll Before Buying
Do a full lap of the market with your shopping list and note the prices of items you want that are being sold by each vendor. Wood advises: “Even though many farmers offer similar products, since they’re selling what’s in season, the prices often vary based on operational costs and what they need to earn to meet their bottom line.”
One vendor may offer tomatoes for a low price, for instance, but her asparagus may be priced higher than another seller’s. So a quick survey of goods and their prices can save you big!
2. Sign Up for Senior Vouchers
If you’re 60 or older and on a limited budget, you may qualify for an annual voucher of $20 to $50 to purchase fresh produce, herbs, and honey exclusively from farmers markets, farmstands, and community-supported agriculture programs as part of the government’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition program. “You use the voucher to pay for goods from farmers, then the farmers cash it like a check, so everyone benefits,” explains Feldman.
To apply, simply contact the program coordinator in your state by visiting the US Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service page.
3. Shop in the Rain for 15% Off
If the weather forecast calls for showers, it may not be great news for your blowout, but it is great news for your wallet. “Since there are fewer shoppers on wet days, many vendors offer rainy day discounts, and some markets even offer a discount market-wide; for instance 15 percent off everything,” Feldman says.
Another added bonus? “Your produce is even fresher on rainy days! That’s because the clouds and chilly temperatures act like a refrigerator to help keep leafy vegetables crisp and root vegetables firm.”
4. Ask About Special Discounts
Just like stores offer specials, many vendors may offer money-saving discounts, says Wood. “Every farm works a little differently, so offers vary. Some may give you a discounted rate on bruised or misshapen fruits and vegetables that may be ‘ugly’ but are still good for canning, freezing, and putting in pies, and others may discount a bumper crop — one that’s yielded an unusually productive harvest," she explained. "I knew one farmer who offered a deal on unwashed produce since it cut the cost of labor.”
To find out what kind of deals a farmer might be offering, ask, “Do you have any specials on seconds, bulk, or anything else?” she recommends.
You can also sign up for a farmer’s email list to be notified of what’s in season, as well as upcoming deals.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.