Every week when I head to the Santa Barbara farmers' markets, I'm like a kid in a candy store. It's a total sensory overload walking down each aisle and taking in all of the sights, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes. At the market each week, we get to watch and taste as the calendar year unfolds... spring peas and leafy greens turn into ripe summer fruits, in autumn we find tables piled high with apples, corn, and sweet root veggies, followed by hardy squash and famed Southern California citrus in the colder winter months.
And yet, as wonderful as the farmers' market can be, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the abundance, or to assume that shopping at a big grocery store is more convenient and less expensive. Fear not! As someone who has worked both sides of the farmers' market table, I have heaps of insider secrets that will revolutionize the way you shop at the market. Keep reading for all my tips + tricks of the trade AND get my recipe for Green Goodess Dressing (which doubles as a fabulous veggie dip)!
Canvas the market before making any purchases.
- I always recommend taking a lap around the market before pulling out your wallet. This initial stroll gives you better sense of the farms who have the produce items you need, and which stands have the nicest looking produce, best prices, etc.
PLAN YOUR MEALS AHEAD OF TIME.
Before you head to the market, figure out your meals for the week ahead and write a list of the produce you hope to find (but be sure to leave room to explore and try something new)! This way, you won't be overwhelmed and make impulse purchases that you regret later.
REMEMBER YOUR TOTE BAGS & CARTS.
A small detail, but it's worth remembering those totes and carts! The flimsy plastic bags that some farm stalls provide can easily break and spill your purchases onto the pavement. Plus, you get instant street cred from farmers when they see you rocking your own sturdy bag or cart.
purchase whole vegetables.
Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radishes are sometimes sold both whole (with greens attached) and trimmed (roots only). When possible, opt for the whole version. When you see the green tops, you know the root vegetables are freshly picked, but even more importantly - the greens are edible and delicious! Carrot and radish tops make fabulous earthy pestos, and beet greens can be prepared the same way as chard or kale.
Don’t be afraid of “ugly” produce.
Many of us are used to seeing waxed, perfectly uniform fruits and veggies at the grocery store... so you'll notice that produce from the farmers' market produce may be less uniform than the supermarket aisle. That's the beauty of shopping at the market! I think the imperfections make the produce even tastier, so don't let a few bumps or extra curves scare you away. One of my favorite bargain bins at the Santa Barbara markets is Fair Hills Farm's boxes of "distressed" apples - if you dig a little, you'll find amazing tasting apples at a fraction of the price!
Learn what’s in season, and buy in bulk when produce is abundant.
The best deals at the farmers’ market are had when you buy seasonally and/or in bulk. Not only will you enjoy the best flavors, but you'll also find the best prices when you buy fruits and veggies at their harvest peak. For instance - the first tomatoes of the season in early May will always be much more expensive than tomatoes in August, when many farms have an abundance of this favorite summer crop.
head home immediately to refrigerate your veggies.
Don’t let those beautiful greens wilt in your hot car! Make sure to bring your hard earned produce home quickly to refrigerate and keep everything nice and fresh.
Get to know your farmers.
Be sure to introduce yourself and get to know your farmers! Farmers love to hear what you are cooking with their produce, and your meals are sure to taste even better after knowing the hands that tended to your fruits and veggies.
As a bit of inspiration for your next foray to the farmers' market, I'm excited to share my favorite Green Goddess Dressing + Dip. This recipe is super quick to make and is packed with flavor and amazing vivid green color thanks to ripe avocado and heaps of fresh herbs.
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
Makes 1 cup
- 1 clove garlic | peeled
- 1 cup fresh basil | loosely packed
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley | loosely packed
- 1 ripe avocado | flesh removed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cups water
- Kosher salt to taste (start with a ½ teaspoon)
- First pulse the cloves of garlic in a food processor.
- Next add the herbs, avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until well blended.
- Add between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup water to thin dressing to your desired consistency.
- Add salt, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed.