How to Save Money at the Farmers Market

Farmers markets have a bad rap for being expensive. With a little planning and thought, they can actually be cheap!
  1. Bring your own bags.
    OK, obviously you do this already, but beyond big reusable grocery bags/totes, save and reuse plastic produce bags, since more and more vendors now charge for new ones.
  2. Show up late.
    I know it seems counterintuitive, but hear me out. First of all, at the end of the day, the crowd has begun to clear out, so there is less of a wait at vendors’ stalls and cruising the streets is freer. More importantly, most vendors are eager to get rid of their goods and so will either lower their starting prices, or be willing to bargain. I've even had farmers put extra produce in my bag because they didn't want to take it back with them after the market closed.
  3. Do a walk-through before you commit to buying anything.
    Most farmers markets have a lot of vendors to choose from. Don't fall into the trap of buying a bunch of stuff from the first ones you see. You're looking for the best possible quality and prices you can find. There's no reason to settle.
  4. Bring a certain amount of cash and don't spend beyond it.
    Even if you're not on a budget this is a really good way to keep yourself from buying more than you actually need. Plus it's reminiscent of playing Monopoly.
  5. Look for deals on imperfect produce.
    Every summer I make a beeline for my tomato farmer's "sauce box." These are organic tomatoes that are just slightly overripe, and are therefore more desirable for tomato sauce. They are outrageously cheap. I turn them into tomato jam, gazpacho, and marinara for pennies. Weird looking potatoes, onions that are sprouting, stone fruit with a few little brown spots--these are all perfectly usable and tasty, but a lot of farmers mark down their prices. Take advantage of it.
  6. Be a loyal customer.
    Farmers tend to be really awesome people. When they see you return to their stall week after week, they are likely to take good care of you. Treat them well by being loyal and tipping, and they'll be more inclined to save the best for you, or slip you some free stuff every now and then.