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 + tastes. As a midwestern native, I know how lucky we are in Santa Barbara to have year-round growing seasons. 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 famous 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 friends! As someone who has worked both sides of the farmers' market table, I've got tons of insider secrets that will totally revolutionize the way you shop at the market... read on for all the tips + tricks of the trade:
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 WEEK'S 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 tops make fabulous earthy pestos, and radish + beet greens can be prepared the same way as chard or kale.
Don’t be afraid of “ugly” produce.
Most people are used to waxed, perfectly uniform supermarket fruits, and they will head straight for the most familiar looking produce at the farmers' market. Keep in mind that the oddest-looking varieties can be the best-tasting, and they often cost less! One of my favorite bargin 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.
Shop early for selection, go late for deals.
For the best selection, go to the farmers market early - and for the best deals, go towards the end, as some farmers will offer discounts on produce rather than carting their wares back home. That being said, remember that farmers raise this food for a living, so don't go fishing for deep discounts.
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.
So now you know how to rock the market like a pro... how about cooking amazing meals with all that beautiful produce? If you're looking to gain more confidence both shopping at the farmers' market as well as preparing a 4 course farm to table meal, then head on over to the Farmbelly contact page to set up a "Farmers' Market Foray" cooking class! In this special class, we start at either the Tuesday afternoon or Saturday morning Santa Barbara farmers' market, where I'll guide you on a tour to meet your local farmers and learn how to select the best seasonal produce. After exploring the market, we return to your home kitchen to prepare a delicious market-inspired meal. Not only do you walk away from this class with an awesome new set of skills, you'll be inspired + empowered to support your local farmers and cook seasonally all year long.
As a bit of inspiration for your next foray to the farmers' market, I'm sharing my new favorite homemade Green Goddess salad dressing. This recipe is super quick to make + packed with flavor and amazing vivid green color, all thanks to freshly picked goodness from our local farmers.
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
Makes 1 cup
- 2 cloves garlic | peeled
- 1 cup fresh basil | loosely packed
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley | loosely packed
- 1 ripe avocado
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup water
- Kosher salt to taste (start with a ½ teaspoon)
- First pulse the cloves of garlic in a food processor. Put the herbs, avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until well blended. Next, add between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup water to thin dressing to your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- This dressing pairs fabulously with all kinds of lettuces, kale, spinach, chard, etc. Just before serving, lightly dress the greens and toss gently with tongs or your hands and enjoy!