When Johnny and I lived in Boston, we stumbled upon the Boston Haymarket. Rain or shine, the Haymarket is open every Friday and Saturday of the year, offering up some super cheap produce. The first week we walked into it, Johnny and I bought a quite a loot of fruits and veggies. As we walked home to our apartment, we added up the contents of our bags (plural) of produce and realized we’d only spent $7! And thus began our love affair with farmers’ markets. We braved the crowds and the rude merchants (“You touch it, you buy it!”) almost every Saturday so we could keep our fruit bowl and fridge stocked with fruits and leafy greens. Speaking of leafy, does anyone else think, “I’m eating leaves!” when they have a salad? Or is that a conversation only Johnny and I have had? Well, thanks to the haymarket, they were always inexpensive leaves — while we lived in Boston, anyway.
And then we moved to North Carolina, and we wanted to keep this awesome trend of cheap produce. And we were lucky enough to stumble upon a farmers’ market co-op through our church. Every other Saturday, about 15 families pitch in $15 each, and are handsomely rewarded an overflowing bin of in-season, locally grown fruits and veggies. Another perk of living in the luciousness that is NC is being able to pick your own fruits! We live down the street from a farm that offers strawberry picking in the spring. So we headed there last Saturday and picked to our heart’s content for $1.50/pound. Cheap berries fresh from the vine and sweeter than any grocery store’s? Let’s just say we’ll be back.
Johnny and I didn’t grow up in families who did the whole farmers’ market thing, so we didn’t realize the potential green we could save on fresh greens. We happened upon it accidentally, and we’re sure glad we have. It means we don’t have to shop at Whole Foods (which is basically our mortal enemy). And it helps us meet our healthy quota of fruits and veggies. Which usually offsets our weekly cheeseburgers and fries, right?
So we’ve told you our story of farmers’ market conversion. And now for a few tips:
1. Beware the surplus. On more than one occasion Johnny and I have gotten a little too excited and bought more fresh food than we could consume before the dreaded spoilage occurred And so despite wanting to buy 15 bananas for $2, we now resist. Because our freezer is already too full of Costco-sized everything to house a bunch of rotten bananas, too. And five loaves of banana bread is probably excessive, too.
2. Choose your co-op wisely. For the most part our current co-op delivers some awesome goods that make it well worth the $15 we spend. But one time an order was full of onions and cabbage. Sad day. And I tried to use it all, I really did. But I failed, and Johnny made me throw the onions out once plants started growing out of them. But that has only happened once, so we feel like it’s still worth the money.
3. Consider the season. Unlike grocery stores, farmers’ markets offer only what’s in season. So if you sign up to receive a basket of mixed fruits and veggies, make sure you’re ready to use what’s actually in season. I got burned one month when we got a ton of potatoes and yams, since I rarely cook with either. But luckily it was easy enough to find a use for them. To remedy such a problem, we use our co-op less during the winter months.
Do you frequent the farmers’ market and local produce scene? Got any tips for us newbies?
I love the farmers market and CSAs because you get to speak with the farmer to learn more about how your food was grown and support local families! However, our farmers markets are pretty expensive here in Ohio. I blame it on a shorter growing season. The food there is so much fresher and better quality so if the price is similar I buy at the market. When I’m back in my hometown I usually stop at the mennonite produce stands for super cheap produce! This year we decided we liked the meat so much we were buying at the Market last year that we would buy a half cow from the farmer. We went on with two other families and got a bunch of grass fed beef (including steaks) for $3.48/lb. Amazing! Tip on overflowing produce is that most produce freezes really well (onions and bananas). We buy onions and chop and freeze when they are on sale for crock pot meals, fajitas etc and frozen bananas are great for banana soft serve, smoothies etc!
Half a cow! That’s awesome. That would be really fun to try all those different cuts. And at a steal!
We’d totally freeze our produce, but our freezer is really small and our extra bread resides there for the same purpose. But getting another freezer isn’t a bad idea.
We have an extremely small freezer as well! I think purchasing a deep freezer for our basement has been well worth it! We were able to participate in purchasing a half cow at an awesome rate and my husband was finally able to go deer hunting and got a buck! Also we have been able to stock up on frozen food deals such as when frozen veggies are deeply discounted and to buy extra produce to freeze. Not to mention once our garden and blackberries start producing we will be able to keep and freeze more instead of giving most away! I think you should definitely consider an extra freezer. It will pay for itself quickly!
If I wasn’t convinced already, I am now. Nice work. 🙂
I wish we had co-op options here. We do have a farmers market that is great but can also be expensive for some things. I haven’t figured it out yet. I love it anyway though.
My experience has been that farmers’ markets are either really cheap or realllly expensive. We’ve been lucky with having cheap ones nearby.
Whole Foods = mortal enemy? Is that just due to the markups or is there an awesome back story here?
I don’t know what Joanna’s reasons are, but I started avoiding Whole Foods after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
It’s mostly due to the fact that every time we’ve gone there we haven’t been able to find what we’re looking for. Like freaking CREAM CHEESE. And for whatever reason, I always end up behind the smug hipster dude in line who is obnoxiously already eating some of the food he’s about to buy.
My wife and I are currently in search for local produce in our area. We really wanted to buy bargain leafy vegetables, since we can’t find any, we resort to eat what’s available. How I wish I can find something like Boston Haymarket.
The best deals are usually the hardest to find. Stay on the lookout.
A farm local to us offers a co-op. You pay $500 up front and pick up a basket of produce every week. We haven’t jumped on it yet, although I’d like to. I don’t spend $500 on anything without scouring the internet for reviews, and it’s hard to know what I’ll be getting, you know?
Love that picture of your little Smurf picking strawberries!
$500/52 weeks = ~$10. That’s a pretty good deal. Unless it’s a basket full of onions and radishes and hedgehogs. Actually, I’d probably go for it if they threw in a different small (live) animal every week.
It’s only 16 weeks boooooooo.
I’m guilty of just going to the grocery store for my produce. I need to change this!
In most cases it’s cheaper. In almost all cases, it tastes way better. Win win.
I try to frequent the same vendors at the market and develop relationships with them. This has helped when I asked the chicken man to save me some whole chickens in case I don’t get to the market before he sells out.
Awesome tip! We’ll have to start striking up a few more conversations with the farmer folks.
I want to find farmer’s markets but I don’t know where to look! I once tried to sign up for a CSA thing but all their shares or whatever for the year were gone by March!
Try taking a look here: http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/
When you buy in bulk, freeze it. Every year I buy 3 garbage bags full of green chile. I’m not sure how many pounds that is…but I take them home, peel them and stick them in ziplock freezer backs then pop them in the freezer. I always have green chile all year. Which is good because I put it in just about everything I cook. For certain daily essentials I hit up Wal Mart. I shop for bananas, apples, broccoli, and sweet potatoes (did you know sweet potatoes and yams are different? Just learned this) every 5 days or so.
Shoot, you really like you your green chilis, huh? That’s awesome. I think we probably need to invest in a freezer to put in our garage, because we’re already maxing out our current freezer on frozen veggies, meat, and bread. I never thought we’d be “those people” with a second fridge/freezer in the garage. Oh well.
Hahaha…I have 2 stand-alone freezers and 2 refrigerator/freezer combos. I used to vendor stock for a grocery store on the side which paid like crap but let me get a ton of free food. Every item that expired was either thrown away or written off. I’d write it off and take it home, then freeze it. I have enough frozen turkey, chicken, bread, and lunchmeat to sink a ship.
Dude, you’re a freaking savings monster! I want to be like you when I grow up. Also, we’re going to your house during the apocalypse.
Our experience with farmer’s markets and CSAs are that they are more expensive than the conventional alternatives – which is odd since we live in the same area as you! We still buy from them, though. I love our CSA because we can choose what we want to receive (which may contribute to the price).
But we haven’t gone berry-picking yet! We definitely should because I can eat a LOT of them and my husband hates the high prices.
I love that model of your CSA. I’d be willing to pay a bit more for personalized selection. And the berries are a steal. We walked out with that entire cardboard box in the image at the top for $3 something. It was the first time in a long time I didn’t feel guilty snacking on strawberries.
My wife and I live near the farmer’s market in Raleigh and love it. It is so cheap and the food is delicious. It can be busy, but it is open year round, so you don’t have to just go on the weekends. Where are you guys at in NC?
We’re in the Triangle, closer to Durham. I didn’t realize that Raleigh’s farmers’ market was open every day of the week. I should definitely cruise down there in the mornings.
I would recommend it. It has some great stuff at awesome prices.
I have only been to a few farmer’s markets before, but they seem awesome. You can support the local economy while saving money and getting fresh produce. I think my wife and I may try to find one we like around us and try to go there every few weeks.
We’ve found that every two weeks suits us just fine. We could probably even stretch it every three. But just those couple of trips each month save us a good amount of cash.
I love farmer’s markets! I do have to say though, I find that our local one is typically MORE expensive than the grocery store. Has that happened to anyone else? I’ve purchased at the market a couple of times though for the sake of “local and fresh,” but have a hard time justifying it.
And yes, I totally call lettuce “leaves” – love that y’all do too! 🙂
When we lived in NYC, we stopped by the Union Square farmers’ market and found it just as, if not more, expensive than the already ridiculously priced grocery stores in the city. Our experience has been that farmers’ markets are either really cheap or really expensive. Not much in between.
I can fully understand why you don’t need 15 bananas but here is a couple of tricks I have learnt along the way as I have three teenagers and am trying to limit my trips to the supermarket to once a week – celery – wrap it in tin foil, it will stay crisp longer. Bananas, I heard of someone who wrapped hers in cling wrap, I thought that was pretty time consuming and wasteful, bad for the environment etc so I put our bananas in a plastic container with a seal lid in the fridge – they lasted an extra 5-7 days without going black.
Awesome tip! I’m really really picky about my bananas. As soon as they start to brown, I can’t eat them. I’ll be happy to eat them as an ingredient in bread or pudding or something else, but not plain. So hopefully this remedies my pickiness.
I grew up near a strawberry farm and often the crop dusters flew over the fields spraying pesticides. I never put all that together until I was older (d’oh) but strawberries are one of those fruits that you want to wash really well. A conventional farm sprays, even if you are doing the picking.
Maybe I’m overzealous but I also shop at WF. Our other supermarkets don’t have the organic selection.
When we were picking, I popped a couple in my mouth right after the vine before thinking the same thing you just mentioned. I also ate one with a ton of dirt, so that sort of ruined the taste. 🙂 WF definitely has its perks. But a lot of their products (and clients) are just too high brow and expensive for this guy.
Great post, and we love the farmers’ markets too. In fact, we’re heading over there today to buy our plants for the garden – yea!
I’m tempted to buy strawberry and other plants every time we go, despite knowing full well we have zero yard to actually plant them in. Someday.
Typically the draw for a CSA isn’t the lessened expense, but the support you’re giving to the farmer and the peace of mind you’re eating veggies that didn’t burn up tons of fossil fuels to get halfway around the world to you! I’ve rarely seen one that’s “cheap,” but I do think they’re of great value. For me, a CSA is less expensive and more convenient than a trip to the farmers’ market each week, but of course that’s all relative.
I would encourage folks to check out their state’s Organic Farmers & Gardener’s Associations. Most states have them, and they are chock full of info about local farms, and usually have contact info, at the very least, for farms that are not certified organic (a double edged sword for any farmer).
Another great resource is your Cooperative Extension. Again, most places have them, and they are infinitely useful. They can help you find a farm for PYO or a farm that has a CSA, and if you’re really green you can just ask the secretary what their favorite CSA is, to help get some more peace of mind before you shell out that $500. (They have one million more great points! Seriously, find your local Extension office!) Cooperative Extensions & OFGAs also usually help organize, or know who is organizing, CSA Fairs. Those are common in most cities, and allow farms with CSAs to gather and sell shares at the start of spring. It’s a good place to meet your farms and fisheries and choose one that’s a good fit for you.
One last thing I’ll mention…more and more cities and states are utilizing “Double Bucks” (or “Double Down” “1/2 SNAP” …it varies depending on where you are). This is an option for folks who are already utilizing SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the new term for food stamps). Not only is it pretty easy these days to find a farmers’ market or CSA that accept payment with SNAP (wahoo!! This is great!), BUT, to encourage low income folks to spend their money on fresh, local goods, they DOUBLE the worth of what you’re buying. So if your total comes to $38 at the Farmers’ Market, they’ll swipe your card for just $19! If your CSA is $400/season, if you pay with SNAP, you might be able to get it for $200/season. Futhermore, some CSAs that do 1/2 SNAP or a similar program will allow you to pay throughout the season (defeating the true purpose of a CSA but making it possible for folks to pay using SNAP as they only get a fixed amount of funds on their card each month).
Eating well is so, so possible on a budget! I’d venture to say it’s downright easy. 🙂 Ask around, use your resources, and most importantly, get to know your farmers!
I’m so happy to hear that a program like Double Down exists for lower income folks. There’s no question that access to cheaper produce and healthy food stands as an obstacle for many SNAP participants, so it’s awesome to know that there’s an active push to make healthy food more accessible for all.
Thanks for the insights on CSAs and all the other great resources, Allie. Great stuff.