Farmers markets are like a travelling circus of fruits and vegetables, popping up in neighborhoods for a few hours each week, then folding up and moving on to the next community. Some markets just appear through the spring and summer. Others appear all year round, transitioning from summer crops of lettuce and tomatoes to winter harvests of greenhouse produce or root vegetables.

Seattle has numerous farmers markets in various neighborhoods around the city. Spokane has markets throughout the valley from roughly June through October. Here are a few tips on how to shop like a pro at farmers markets:

  • Arrive early. Your local chefs are often buying early and in bulk for their restaurants. Being an early bird ensures you won’t miss out on the best eggs, meats, and produce.
  • Go ahead and ask questions. The farmers you’re buying from know their produce better than anyone. They know what is fresh, how long it will stay that way, and the best ways to prepare it.
  • Survey the market before buying. Note what’s available and who is selling at the best prices, then plan your purchases accordingly.
  • Depending on the weather, harvests in Washington may come early or late. Part of the joy of eating fresh is adjusting your dinner plans according to what is in season.
  • Bring a bag. A recyclable bag or two will make carrying your haul back to the car easier and it’s good for the environment. If you’re really stocking up, a collapsible roller cart will lighten your load.
  • Stock the pantry. Towards the end of our growing season, buy produce in that can be canned or frozen to enjoy for weeks or months to come.

Shopping at a farmers market offers a variety of benefits. For starters, there’s the health benefits of eating a variety of fresh foods. Foods start to lose nutritional value once picked. Local produce picked yesterday has a higher nutritional value than similar produce picked weeks ago and shipped across the country or around the world.

In addition, the dollars spent at a market stay in the region, helping the economies of local communities. Local farmers are more likely to treat their land, laborers, and customers ethically. Family farmers often use organic and sustainable growing methods with less pesticides and chemicals.

To find a market near you, consult The Washington State Farmers Market Association’s directory. Check out this article for nourish bowl recipes of fresh produce.