If you aren't a frequent farmer's market shopper, there are a few things you should know to get the best experience possible (and not miss out on the good stuff!).
First, if you're not sure where to find a farmer's market that's close to where you live, Local Harvest is an awesome resource. You simply choose what you're looking for (a farmer's market, CSA, farm stand, etc.) along with your city/state and a list of nearby options will show up.
When you find one that's close to you, you can click on the link to find out more information such as market hours/schedule, location, vendors and even reviews! Each page also has a list of seasonal crops that are available in the spring, summer and fall.
Going to the farmer's market can be a bit overwhelming because there are so many vendors selling so many different things. While it's perfectly fine to head out with no particular agenda, I find that it's best to have somewhat of a game plan. Here are some simple tips to make the most of your trip to the farmer's market.
Check out a list of vendors beforehand
Local Harvest will give a list of participating vendors and what they are selling. Keep in mind that the list might not be 100% accurate (and more than likely, some vendors won't be listed), but it will give you a good idea of what to expect. Write down a few names of the vendors that you'd most like to visit. Chances are, you'll end of stopping by other vendors' booths as well, but at least you'll be sure to see the ones at the top of your list.
Make a list of seasonal produce (and other goods) you want to buy
Farmer's markets are one of the best ways to shop seasonal (and local, of course) because farmers will only be selling what they've grown. The availability of certain types of produce will vary throughout the year.
For example, you'll find greens and asparagus in the spring, tomatoes, peaches and beets in the summer and apples and winter squash in the fall (among many other things!). Most farmer's markets also have vendors selling items other than produce. My local market also offers wine, honey, salsas & hot sauce, various breads and baked goods, lotions and soaps, clothing, coffee, ice cream, cheese, flowers, herbs, dried pasta, jams and kombucha (just to name a few!).
Browse before you buy and try samples
For me, it's always tempting to buy the first gorgeous piece of produce that I see. Inevitably, I'll send up seeing something that looks even better (and less expensive) a few booths down. For this reason, I like to do a walkthrough first and take mental notes (or open up the notepad on my phone or take photos) and go back to purchase the best items. Also, take advantage of the samples that many booths are handing out. Many times you'll try something that you wouldn't otherwise and end up finding a new favorite item!
Purchase eggs, meat and dairy
I can honestly say that the best tasting meat and eggs are those that I've bought from local farms. There are many farms that offer direct sales or CSA memberships, but picking up a single item at the market can be a lot easier (and require less commitment!). My local market offers pretty much every type of meat that you can think of, including the most delectable bacon you've ever tasted. And I always pick up at least one carton of eggs (either chicken or duck). Check out these beauties!
Even though many vendors will accept credit cards, some are cash only. Using cash also helps the vendors cut down on fees associated with using credit cards.
This is one very important tip that I've learned: always arrive early. Keep in mind that there are many other people setting out to buy the same things as you! Anything that's a limited quantity will sell out quickly (which almost always includes eggs) and you want to make sure that you are there to get in on the action.
On the other hand, it's also sometimes pays off to get to the market right before it closes. Vendors will sometimes have special deals right before closing, since they want to return with as little as possible. I've seen many vendors offer a deal like "stuff as much as you can in a bag for $10" right before closing.
Have fun, support your local farmers and keep in mind: you'll probably always leave with more than you set out to buy.