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How to Save Money at the Farmers Market

Follow these seven tips to cut the cost of buying fresh produce and other farm goods.

Shopping at the farmers market can be a great way to get locally grown fresh produce and other farm goods such as meat, cheese and honey. You already know this if you shop at one in your community. But if you've shied away from this sort of market because you think it's too pricey, perhaps you should reconsider. If you know how to shop at a farmers market, you probably won't spend any more than you would at the supermarket. In fact, you might even spend less. These tips can help.

 

Comparison shop. Prices can vary greatly from market to market and from farmer to farmer. For example, I found on a recent trip to the farmers market that the price of a pint of blackberries ranged from $3.50 to $5. So spend some time checking prices from several sellers before buying anything. Also, markets in many communities accept vouchers and EBT cards from government nutrition assistance programs. So if you participate in one of these programs, look for markets in your community that accept this form of payment.

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Get to know farmers. Developing a relationship with the person from whom you buy food can pay off, says Michelle Howell, who owns Need More Acres Farm in Kentucky along with her husband, Nathan, and sells produce at a community farmers market. She says that farmers may throw in extra produce for free if you buy multiple items from them or set aside things they know you like.

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Buy at the peak of the season. You likely know that you can save money at the grocery by buying fruits and vegetables when they're in season. The same holds true for the farmers market. You're probably thinking that if a fruit or vegetable is at the market, it is in season. That's true, but prices vary throughout the season. At the peak of a growing season, when there's an abundance, prices will be lower (sometimes substantially lower) than at the beginning and end of the season, when there are fewer of an item.

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Buy in bulk. Howell says that farmers often sell items in bulk at peak season. You just might have to ask ahead because they don't always bring big boxes for bulk purchases to the market. When you buy in bulk, not only do you get the best price of the season but sometimes you get a discount for your large purchase. You can either juice, freeze or can fruits and vegetables so they don't go bad, or divvy up the bounty with friends. Safely freeze ground meat for 3 to 4 months, steaks for 6 to 12 months and poultry for 9 months, according to Foodsafety.gov. Eggs last 3 to 5 weeks in the refrigerator.

Buy at the end of the market. You've probably heard that farmers lower their prices at the end of the day so nothing goes unsold. But Howell says that this really depends on the farmer. Some sell their produce to other outlets, such as restaurants. This is another reason why it's important to befriend farmers so you know which ones are more likely to offer a discount at the end of the day -- or on a rainy day when there aren't many shoppers.

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Join a CSA. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is another way to buy food directly from a farmer. When you join, you share in the bounty and risk of the farm, says Howell, who operates a CSA. You pay a set amount to receive a weekly assortment of farm products. Exactly what and how much depends on the time of year and the success of the farmer. Some weeks you'll receive more than you are paying for if the farmer has an abundance. Other weeks you may receive less if the crop is limited by weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

Buy less at the grocery store. If you're shopping at the farmers market, your list of grocery items should dwindle. That is, make sure you cross everything off your regular grocery list that you've bought at the farmers market so you don't waste money buying what you already have. You might find that you need to buy very little at the grocery store if you make meals entirely with purchases from the farmers market.

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