How to Shop at Farmers’ Markets on a Budget
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Yes, you can eat fresh and local without breaking the bank
“Farm to table” is all the rage these days, and organic, local, healthful foods are generating more buzz than ever.
Unfortunately, eating fresh and local often can be prohibitively expensive for Solo Moms, especially for those part of the nearly 20% of Americans experiencing food insecurity. Thankfully, there are ways of keeping down costs when you do choose to shop local.
Here are a few of our best tips on getting the most out of your local farmers’ market:
Use your SNAP benefits. Did you know you can use your SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits—formerly known as “food stamps”—at farmers’ markets?
Last year, of the $70 billion in SNAP benefits spent, $19 billion were used at farmers’ markets. You can use an Electronic Benefit Transfer card to pay for groceries at the market, just as you do at your regular grocery store.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made it easy for farmers to participate by providing them with all the equipment they need to process these benefits. The only caveat is that your local market must be licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). To find the closest FNS-licensed market in your area, you can search the USDA Local Food Directories.
If you have never used SNAP, find out if you qualify with this easy-to-use online tool.
Set a budget before you go. It is easy to spend a lot of money at farmers’ markets. In the same way that a run to Target for shampoo can morph into a $200 budget-busting catastrophe, a trip to the farmers’ market can become surprisingly expensive.
Decide ahead of time how much you can spend, and bring cash; otherwise, baked goods, homemade candles and soaps, and other products can bust your budget quickly.
Have a game plan, and involve your kids. If you have a game plan ahead of time, your kids will know what to expect, and you won’t have to be the bad guy (think: “Mom! Look at that! Can I have one?”). As an added benefit, you will have expectations for yourself, which will help you stick to your budget and household needs.
Have your kids help you make a list. Let them know there will be a lot of fantastic products at the market, but they are going to help you stick with the plan. If they help make the list and come up with the strategy, they are more likely to comply.
Be flexible; try new types of produce. You might have blackberries on your list, but if that week’s harvest is small, you might be in for some sticker shock. Instead of spending $6 for a small pint of berries, see what is priced more reasonably. Likewise, be open to trying new kinds of greens and root vegetables.
Negotiate prices. If you are used to shopping at a grocery store, you probably aren’t in the business of negotiating prices. If you are used to haggling at yard sales and thrift stores, use those same skills at the market.
Start out by trying a simple phrase, such as, “Is this your best price?” Or “Do you have any specials on these today?” You might be surprised and get a better deal.
Ask about bulk produce and rejects. Many vendors display only their most attractive produce. If you intend to eat the produce you buy and not put it on display until it rots on your table, it really doesn’t matter what the produce looks like. Bruises on fruit, misshapen tomatoes, or holey kale can sometimes help you strike a big deal.
If you are making tomato sauce, jams, or fruit butters, let the vendor know. He or she may have a stash of fruits and vegetables perfect for your project at a price that is ideal for your budget.
If you shop at the end of the day, you can sometimes also get better deals. For the vendor, selling his or her products at a deep discount is better than not selling them at all.
Consider a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for locals to buy shares in farms. These can work differently, depending on the farm, but generally you purchase a “share” of the produce up front and then you can access it throughout the growing season (typically weekly or biweekly from June to November).
Many offer a wide range of produce, flowers, and herbs, but some also include farm eggs, locally raised meat, dairy products, and items such as soaps and candles. There are also CSAs for specialty crops such as mushrooms.
If your farm is registered with FNS, then you can use SNAP benefits to purchase your CSA.
Pick your own. Many farms offer “pick your own” options at prices much lower than farmers’ market or grocery-store prices. As an added bonus, a “pick your own” outing is a fantastic family activity and can be an excellent workout.
Your neighborhood farm-to-table bistro might have absurdly high prices, but you can still get the farm-to-table experience for your family on a smaller budget. Whether you have SNAP benefits or not, participating in a CSA or shopping at your local farmers’ market can be more affordable than you might think. These simple tips can help you maximize your dollar so you and your children can enjoy local produce—while it’s still in season!
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Well-being/Health & Fitness Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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