Do you like fresh food? Of course. Do you want to get outside and meet some local people when the weather’s nice? I know I do. From May through November, farmers markets pop up in cities and towns across America. Farmers and artisans gather to sell everything they have to offer to eager members of the community.
Food costs are one of the most common budget breakers, and farmers markets can help you get fresh, local produce at low prices to help you stretch your grocery budget.
If you find yourself attending one sometime soon, be sure you get the most out of your experience by following these tips for shopping at farmers markets.
1. Scan & Plan
Unlike a trip to the supermarket where you know where the things you need are, it’s important to shop around at a farmers market to get the lay of the land. Make a pass through to check on quality and price before you start buying. Vendor location and product availability will vary even at your regular spot. Looking around also gives you the chance to think over your budget and meal plan for the week so you can make a more concentrated list.
2. Consider Your Timing
Your local farmers market selection may be limited to what is in season, so it’s a good idea to learn what grows in your area during every season ahead of time. You should also talk to the vendors about what will be coming to the market in upcoming weeks so you know what to expect. Also keep in mind that the earlier in the day you show up, the better the selection will be. While coming later in the day often means getting deals on the items vendors are looking to unload, you may not have the best selection. It’s a tradeoff.
3. Come Prepared
Being prepared can help big time when it comes to the farmers market. Try to bring cash, especially small bills. (Even though more and more vendors can accept credit and debit card payments.) It’s also a good idea to have some heavy-duty reusable shopping bags and even a cooler to keep your stash fresh. This is better for the environment, helps the farmers’ low profit margins, and helps you avoid spilling or crashing your items on the sidewalk on your way out.
4. Buy in Bulk
The best deals often come when you work in volume — meaning you can get the best flavors and prices by buying in bulk whatever is at its harvest peak. Even if you don’t like to can your produce, you can follow some new recipes and freeze (or dry) anything extra. You will thank yourself now for the low price and later for the ready-made meal.
5. Ask Questions
The same people who grew the produce and raised the livestock for the meat they are now selling usually staff market stands. They are the most knowledgeable people about where your food came from and can be a great source for new and interesting recipes or uses. Take a few minutes to chat and ask any question you may have.
Attending a farmers market is generally an easy way to shop locally, but if you’re not careful, you can leave dazed or frustrated with bags of too many items and having spent more than you intended. Check the USDA or Local Harvest website to find the local markets near you and be sure to follow these tips to maximize your experience.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.