If you love farmers market produce but have always found it too pricey, you may be shopping the wrong way. There are plenty of ways to save if you know how. For the insider's take, I talked to Phil Rhodes, 42, who runs the Country Rhodes Family Farm in Visalia, CA. He's a grower of tomatoes, grapes, figs, and a wide variety of tree fruits. Here are his tips on how to save:
- Buy in bulk. If you buy in bulk, you have more leeway to negotiate. Keep that in mind if you find yourself needing to purchase more produce if you have many mouths to feed.
- Ask for overripe produce. Farmers will occasionally give you deals on overripe produce or items they need to get rid of. Depending on what kind of market it is, the overripe fruit might not be displayed. But ask for it, because sometimes the farmer has it hidden away.
- Visit the lower-priced markets. There are certain farmers markets that are lower-priced than the others. Rhodes says you can find out which ones they are by "word of mouth." Ask people around you where the best place to shop is, or you can even ask your friendly farmer. "The shoppers that go to certain markets are looking for bargains, so farmers usually send produce that don't look as good to them," says Rhodes. "They'll send nicer looking or fancier — heirloom variety produce — to a higher-end market. In some locations, the customers are more price-conscious, so the farmers will take stuff that's riper or bruised but still tastes good and sell it there."
- Avoid the busy morning rush: The best time to negotiate with your farmer is when he's not busy. Rhodes says that's the most important tip to negotiating with a seller. The "busy time" for farmers is usually around 10 a.m. to noon.
- Check out the goods on Sunday afternoon: Many farmers travel long distances to sell at the farmers market. Rhodes, for example, travels about 250 miles to sell his ware in the Bay Area on the weekends. Many farmers stay the entire weekend as they are coming from out of town, so by the time Sunday comes around, there may be produce they need to get rid off before making the trek back home.
- Negotiate gracefully. Don't be too pushy when negotiating and always do it with grace. And it's also helpful to "get to know your farmer and know the right ones."
When you've bought all your produce items, save more by preserving them and making them last longer with these tips.