With rising food prices, bargain hunters head to farmers’ markets

Jaime E. Love

It’s farmers market season and that could mean savings for smart shoppers. Shoppers can not only save money but make it an experience.

Stephanie Dunn, executive director of Star Farm, an urban farm in Chicago, recommends going to the farmers market for the shopping but “take in the whole experience,” she said. There is something new every week and there is fun to be had – as well as savings.

Star Farm sells produce at eight different farmers markets every week, including some in low-income neighborhoods where there are no easy-to-get-to supermarkets.

Neighbors stop and catch up. Farmers give out samples. Recipes get traded. Some farmers markets have live music. Some sell tacos and jam and baked goods.

Food straight from the farm stays fresher longer, is more nutritious and tastes better, Dunn said. In early June, strawberries are at their peak. Buy a flat and pop the extras in the freezer for smoothies. Freeze fresh herbs in the summer to use in soups and stews next winter.

Dunn recommends buying a $30 tabletop vacuum sealer to make the best use of freezer space.

“Eating with the seasons and eating what is most bountiful will definitely get you more bang for your buck,” Dunn said.

Elderly sisters at one market buy a big haul of summer tomatoes every year and then spend two days cooking together to fill their pantries with jars of homemade tomato sauce. It’s a bonding ritual that they look forward to.

Dunn looks forward to apricot season.

“The cost of apricots during apricot season – once they come on – you’ll see really competitive prices there,” she said.

One strategy for farmers market shopping is to show up in the last hour before the market closes. Farmers don’t want to haul unsold produce back home. Discounts and extras can be had.

Concerned about rising meat prices? Stir fries and bigger salads use smaller amounts of meat without sacrificing taste and satisfaction.

“Incorporating more plant-based options in your diet can help offset the high cost of meat,” Dunn said.

As a busy mother, Dunn has more luck getting her kids to eat vegetables when they have been to the farmers market and helped her pick out dinner. Fresh picked carrots taste sweeter. String beans straight off the vine crunch when you eat them raw. There is no comparison between a salad bar cucumber and a crisp fragrant cucumber fresh from the field.

“It’s higher quality nutrition for less price,” Dunn said.

For Dunn, the beauty of the farmers market is the whole experience.

“A farmers market is just such an interesting space to be in,” Dunn said. “When you go to a grocery store, it’s silent. You want to hurry up and get out of there.”

At the farmers market, people talk to the growers. A farmer will explain what a kohlrabi is and how to cook one. Out in the sunshine, people enjoy interacting.

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