Mastering the Market

By Kristi Willis

Farmers markets, with their stalls packed with fresh produce, meats, cheeses and artisanal goods, can feel a little overwhelming to the first-time shopper. These easy tips will help you transition from a farmers market newbie to a pro in no time.

Each farmers market has its own character and vendors.

The Saturday markets are the largest, offer the most variety and often have entertainment. They’re the best bet if you’re looking for a wide range of products or to enjoy time with friends or family. On the other hand, if you simply want to grab something quickly and go, a smaller neighborhood or weekday market might be better—just be sure to review the vendor list or contact the market coordinator to ensure they have someone who carries what you seek.

Showing up with a wad of twenty-dollar bills to buy two- to three-dollar items can make transactions more difficult. Save up ones and fives during the week, or get change on the way to the market. If you forget cash, the larger markets have ATMs. The Sustainable Food Center, which organizes the Downtown, Sunset Valley and Triangle markets, also has debit card machines at their market booths. For a small transaction fee, wooden tokens are available for purchase to spend like cash at any market vendor’s booth.

Juggling several small plastic bags while shopping is cumbersome at best. Bring at least one shopping bag large enough to hold your purchases. During the summer months, a cooler with an ice pack keeps items fresh in the car while you finish your errands.

To speed up shopping, wear something with pockets so you can easily access cash without having to dig through a wallet at each booth. Also wear comfortable shoes; several of the markets are in grassy areas and are not well suited for testing out those new kitten heels.

Arrive at the market early if you’re after something that might be in limited supply (tomatoes, greens and meat go fast!). But if you have an eye for a bargain, the best prices can be had by getting to the market near closing time. Many vendors are more interested in selling their products than dragging them home, and may be willing to make last-minute deals.

Because the markets are seasonal, showing up with a detailed grocery list might lead to frustration. Instead, buy what’s fresh at the market, and then find a recipe that fits it. Before heading out to the market, check out the “What’s In Season” guide on Edible Austin’s Resources page or sign up for weekly e-mail updates that many markets and vendors offer—some vendors even let you preorder items to pick up at the market.

Farmers often offer produce not found on grocery store shelves. Be open to trying new things and ask questions about how to prepare an unfamiliar item. Smartphone recipe apps, like Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List or How to Cook Everything, can also come in handy as you shop.

While it’s possible to blaze in and out of the market in 30 minutes, budget extra time for your first visit to figure out the market layout. Walk the booths once, scoping out what’s available, then return to the booths when you’re ready to buy.

Take time to chat with the farmers and vendors and learn about their products. Grab a cup of coffee or a snack and enjoy the music, community space and people watching.

Do you have other insider tips for mastering the market? Share your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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