If you have always purchased your produce from the supermarket, you really don’t know what you are missing. These days you can pretty much find a farmer’s market or produce stand just about everywhere-and these are the places where you will find the freshest, tastiest fruits and vegetables around. Why are they so good? The freshness is the main reason-most of the produce on sale at these stands and markets was very recently picked. These stands pick their produce to sell each evening or morning-a stark contrast from the supermarket produce selections that may have been picked a week or more ago and shipped across the country. Also, most supermarket produce has been chemically treated to make it last longer; much of it may have been chemically treated to make it look picture perfect. This isn’t the case with the fruits and vegetables at produce stands–if you ask the stand operator and you will likely find out that he grows his produce without the use of chemicals.
Shopping at a produce stand isn’t just like shopping at a supermarket. There are a few important differences to keep in mind-here are some tips on how to go about shopping at a produce stand:
Be flexible about the produce you plan to purchase.
Unlike supermarkets, which offer nearly any type of produce you can think of, produce stands sell only the fruits and vegetables that are in season. Think about it-these stands are run by local farmers, and they are selling the produce that has just ripened on their farm. If the corn isn’t ready to be picked, there will not be corn at the produce stand. And, even if a particular fruit or vegetable is in season, that is no guarantee that you will find it at a certain farm stand on any given day-it is possible, perhaps, that the farmer sold all of his ripe tomatoes the day before and will not have any more to offer for another day or two. So, you have to be flexible about what you are going to purchase-check out the produce that is being offered and plan your meals and snacks around that produce.
Be respectful to the produce stand operator.
Keep in mind that the produce stand is likely run by the farmer who grew the produce, or at least a member of his family. You do not want to insult that person by asking if he has any better bunches of broccoli somewhere like you might with a grocery store clerk. The stand operator has put out his best produce to sell because that is how he makes a living-why would he hide better produce somewhere? Such a question is commonplace at a supermarket, but at a produce stand it is simply rude. You want to develop a good relationship with the produce stand operator so that you can find out when he will be selling a certain type of vegetables, for example. Treat the stand operator with kindness and respect, and you may even find that you can get a discount for a larger purchase.
Take care in selecting your produce.
Like I mentioned previously, it is likely that the produce you find at these stands won’t be picture perfect. It may have a slightly strange shape or a different color than you are used to. This is nothing to worry about-this is actually what fresh, farm-grown produce generally looks like! To choose your fruits and vegetables, trust your nose-pick up an apple and smell it, for example. If it smells good to you, chances are it will taste good. (Much of the supermarket produce doesn’t even have a scent because of the chemical treatments it has received.) Or, if you aren’t sure how to select a bunch of asparagus, for instance, just ask the stand operator-he will be sure to give you some pointers. Whatever you do, don’t rip open several ears of corn and then leave them there without purchasing them; doing so will basically insure that the farmer can’t sell those ears because other customers aren’t going to choose them.
Focus on the quality, not the price.
Yes, it may cost somewhat more to shop at a produce stand. But, when you think about the difference in quality it will seem worth it. Would you rather spend $4 on some bland, tasteless tomatoes at the supermarket, or would you rather spend $6 on tomatoes that are juicy and flavorful? And, you can always as the stand operator if he offers a discount on large quantity purchases (if so, shop with a friend to take advantage of the discount). Also try shopping at the produce stand later in the day-prices may get marked down so that the produce doesn’t have to be loaded up to come back to the farm. But, even if you end up paying full price at the produce stand, you will know that you are getting fresher and tastier fruits and vegetables for your family-and supporting the local farmer’s family at the same time.
Bring some bags or containers to hold your purchases.
Produce stands don’t always have the cute little plastic containers for their berries like the supermarket does. And, if they have their vegetables sorted into cartons, they may not want you to take the carton home with your purchase-they like to reuse these to display their wares. When you purchase your fruits and vegetables, stand operators generally put your selections into paper or plastic bags. This may be fine for potatoes or onions, but would you want fresh raspberries put into a bag? Probably not, because they might get crushed. So, make sure to bring along a few plastic containers to hold the more fragile purchases. And, bringing your own bags is not only eco-friendly, but you will also keep the stand operator from having to use his bags-something for which he will surely be grateful, because that saves him money.
Keep these tips in mind when you are heading out to shop at the nearest produce stand. And actually, you may not want to limit yourself to shopping at just one produce stand-different farms grow different produce, so you may see a different selection if you visit more than one stand. The more you can find at local stands, the less you will have to rely on the tasteless fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. Give produce stands a try-you will be glad you did!