Find Your Frugal: Saving at farmers markets

Murielle and Rodney Gammons shop for produce with their daughter at a farmers market.
Murielle and Rodney Gammons shop for produce with their daughter at a farmers market. (Courtesy UF/IFAS)
Courtesy UF/IFAS

Consumer demand for locally grown fruit and vegetables and manufactured food products has led to an increase of farm stands, farmers markets and a variety of small enterprises, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These small, local pop-ups present an opportunity for growers and small entrepreneurs to sell products locally and bypass the retailer. That amounts to savings and profits for vendors, as consumers get direct access to fresh local produce and products.

Consumers can save and support the local vendors and economy.

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“You can enjoy life, be sensible about your spending and still contribute to your local economy, making it a win-win for all,” says Brenda Marty-Jimenez one of several UF/IFAS Extension agents throughout the state specializing in family and consumer sciences. “There are plenty of cost-saving measures you can adopt that will save you money over time and still support your local vendors at farmers markets.”

Here, Marty-Jimenez adds six strategies to keep costs down when shopping at a local farmer’s market, while supporting local vendors.

  1. There is a farmers market for everyone. The Florida Department of Agriculture maintains a list of community farmers markets throughout Florida. It is up to the market organizers to submit the information. Call and verify hours of operation.
  2. Go later in the day or when the weather isn’t optimal. Before the market closes, you may be able to bargain on prices. For vendors, it can be a struggle to sell items when it is rainy and windy. Furthermore, the later in the day you go to the farmers market, fewer people are out enjoying them. Vendors still need to make a profit and may not want to transport items that can spoil or take up storage at closing time. They may offer discounts or unique offers at day’s end. Also, plan your purchases, and make a list of items you would like to buy. This avoids being tempted to make impulse purchases and spending more.
  3. Buy produce that isn’t perfect. This is sometimes called the “ugly food” and may be sold at a lower price. The taste and nutritional content are typically not affected by appearance. Ugly food goes great in soups, stews, casseroles, smoothies, juices and other food items that are not standalone. Ugly food can also be preserved for future use by simply freezing. Once these are sliced and diced, you cannot tell the difference.
  4. Cash is preferred and EBT is also accepted by most. If you pay with cash, you may be able to pay a lower price for the produce. The vendor doesn’t pay a transaction card fee when cash is used. Farmers markets across Florida accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards. This electronic system allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participant to pay for food using SNAP benefits. The USDA National Farmers Market Directory lists farmers markets that accept EBT and other federal nutrition programs. Finally, carry small denominations of cash with you. This keeps your cash flow in check and will make paying easier. Price flexibility will vary from vendor to vendor.
  5. Get to know the vendors, while supporting them. Vendors may be more likely to offer you special items and/or make special offers to you if you are a known, frequent customer who supports and promotes their items. Thank vendors for offering locally grown and produced items. Visit farms or groves, and take tours if available, in your area. We want vendors to be successful to continue to offer local items to our communities.

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